PEGBRJE: Witch Thief and The Night Fisherman
Projectiles fly for many reasons.
Witch Thief is a curious ‘shoot-em-up’ title made by Cardboard Keep, an Australian indie studio that players may remember for the adorable Puzzle Puppers earlier on. With this title, however, players are not cute long doggies attempting to eat food, but instead magical thieves; specifically a snarky witch that is looking for the thrill of stealing a dangerous grimoire for the sake of the thrills.
In a twist, Witch Thief alters the formula for standard bullet hell-style gameplay with it’s camera; instead of top down, it utilizes a 3D action camera controllable by the player. This allows players to change how they view the fight while also giving a different general gameplay feel of close combat bullet dodging and shooting. I never felt as if I was looking down and dodging bullets, but instead was there with our thieving friend dodging the bullets with her. The rest of the title uses the tested methodology of shmups as the core gameplay is avoiding bullets and destroying the guardians who are firing them. Players have a special ability and passive depending on the character they are playing, while they have the same ‘dodge’ ability which makes them invulnerable for a set amount of time as they turn into a ball and deflect projectiles. Destroying an enemy can have them drop a ‘spell card’ which replace the current primary fire with a new version such as laser, fire, homing missiles, superpowered centre bullet. Picking up new ones won’t ever augment the current spell, so best to avoid any if players enjoy a certain attack like the laser (my personal favourite).
Progression is done via gates in which the player will defeat all enemies in an area before the gate opens to allow passage. Every so often, more powerful individuals will arrive to challenge our thief as boss fights. These are where the fun begins, as they have 3 full health bars and new moves to throw that require attention and detail. There’s also a timer which at first might scare players into thinking they need to win within that timeframe, but in reality defeating a health bar in the allotted time will give a new spellcard drop to change up the primary. It’s a clever way of rewarding players for being aggressive if they are wanting to switch up their playstyle, such as entering a bossfight with a weapon that isn’t their personal favourite. If the timer expires, it’s not the end of the world, as each health bar restarts the timer to give another chance at getting a new spell card — but new health bars mean new abilities, and things might get a bit too dicey. Death isn’t the end thankfully, as players have a set amount of lives depending on the difficulty; however, run out of lives and it’s back to the beginning of the entire level to try again.
Witch Thief is an interesting title thanks to its shifting of camera focus to a 3D action camera, giving it more of a rail-shooter vibe to accommodate the bullet hell. The story fleshes itself out as players defeat boss after boss, uncovering what exactly this grimoire can do and where its powers lie. Many of the bosses don’t even know what it does, although granted many of the bosses just want to be left alone and we’re somewhat crashing in on their downtime. One little thing of note is the lines that trace from the bullets to the floor; while this may seem unnecessary, since the change to the camera angle it actually helps immensely with trancing and understanding where the bullets are in space correlated to the ground. It’s a little thing, just like the many accessibility options, but it’s super nice to have.
Witch Thief has quite a lot going for it, with multiple levels that can take quite some time if players keep losing their lives before reaching the end, which can stretch the time out quite a bit. There’s also 4 different characters to choose from (3/4 are unlocks), and difficulties to keep things fresh and exciting. If you have a few hours and want to sink into a snarky magical bullet fest, then this is definitely one to try out.
The Night Fisherman is an interactive cinema title made by Far Few Giants, an indie duo out of the UK and comprised of De Fault (Anthony de Fault) and Chard(Richard Tongeman), featuring the compositional work of Richard Campbell. The title is made in Unity with the library Fungus — one I became quite familiar with thanks to my work on visual novels in the past. It’s quite useful for story telling, with a few issues that the programmer of the project could explain for hours, but that’s a little off topic. For now, we shall be privy to a cinematic experience of a fisherman.
The Night Fisherman is a hard experience to describe, for normally I would cover the gameplay loops in this second paragraph to give the understanding of what exactly players can look forward to doing via loops. Instead, The Night Fisherman is more of an interactive short narrative that tells a simple story in a short time. Players can make some decisions for what they wish for the fisherman to respond with to this individual, altering how the conversation can go at different periods. The beauty of this, however, is more on the backs of the artistic design and the use of cinematographic cameras. There are a few cameras set up throughout the scene for players to cycle through at their hearts content, with the bottom configuration of dots implying where the player is currently in the scene. Since the dialogue does not continue until players want it to, and there is no voicework to worry about, players can alter the camera angle to better focus on different aspects and create the sensation of directing a movie shot.
And this is a movie shot, complete with narrative direction and fantastic backdrops. Both of the gentlemen are clad in the shadows of the dusk, painted only by the colours of the gorgeous sky that reflects on the water. The other person on the scene is a calm, collected individual with a shotgun, conversing with the fisherman about the man’s job and what he does while simultaneously interrogating the fisherman about a certain immigration issue. He talks extensively, so the few times that the Fisherman can speak are curt and to the point, with the player-made decisions usually inputting some pieces before the other man takes over and talks again. The air is thick with the tension created whenever there is an interrogation, regardless of its nature as one attempts to wrestle information from the other. Now, if this sounds familiar, that would be thanks to this short sequence lifting inspiration from a very famous scene in recent film, one that I admittedly haven’t watched the full way through but still know of quite vividly (I liked the film, I just haven’t gotten back to finishing it…).
The Night Fisherman is not a long experience, nor is it meant to be — it encapsulates the entrapment of interrogation perfectly while giving players the ability to cycle through different angles to create their own cinematic experience. The few decisions that I was able to make were more impacting than I first thought, as they immediately gave a sense of dread as ‘what could’ve happened if I picked the other’, even if some may already know of how it may end thanks to the influences and direction. It’s a gorgeous rendition, and anyone that wishes to create their own cinematic experience for a 5 -10 minute scene will love this title.
And the developers have more short titles out there! Definitely worth looking into.
Play as the Witch, dodging and weaving through terrifyingly intricate bullet storms on her journey to steal the Ancient…