I’ve purchased games from the 3DS eShop several times over the past couple years. And every time I’m in the shop, I see the game “Witch and Hero.” Built on the 8-bit aesthetic, the game’s always attracted my attention. And for less than $3, it has to be worth a look, right? I saw the following trailer, then bought the game, knowing nothing else about it.
The game is simple, only taking about 5 hours to beat. I had a lot of fun with it!
This is my Witch and Hero Review; alternatively titled “Why you shouldn’t always let the majority opinion dictate your game choices.”
Let’s get it on!
As somebody who grew up on the NES, the 8-bit style has always appealed to me: the visuals, the sound, and the gameplay. Naturally I see something like Witch and Hero and am immediately lured in. While many “retro” games take shortcuts and do things that were never done back in 1985, Witch and Hero feels authentic.
The pixel art is simple, the music is catchy, and the gameplay is straightforward and challenging.
And this is where the criticism comes from.
In WAH, the Witch has been turned to stone by Medusa, and the Hero wants to revive her. There are 20 levels, all single screens. The Witch stands in the middle, and monsters converge on her from the edges.
When they hit her enough times, she dies.
The goal, then, is to protect her until you defeat the Boss monster at the end of the level. Simple.
For some gamers, apparently too simple. You attack enemies by walking into them: that’s it! No hitting an attack button, no sword animation. You just bump into them. Each time you hit them, they take some damage, and you also take damage.
When your hit points run out, you are stunned for a few seconds until revived.
After the first few levels, you gain the ability to revive the witch temporarily. You collect Monster Blood, bring it to the Witch, and when her blood meter fills up, she comes to life.
She has two magic attacks: an area of effect wind attack, and a fireball attack that’s concentrated in one direction. You spin her in place with the L and R buttons to aim the fireball.
Outside of the battles, there’s a simple shop where you upgrade your magic, attack, defense, and speed.
WAH was knocked by others because of the simple gameplay, but also on the repetitiveness. Each level is the same thing: protect the Witch, kill monsters, try to survive, and kill the Boss.
The levels, however, are inconsistent in their difficulty. While I flew through the first few levels, soon I hit a wall. The monsters were too strong, and they kept killing the Witch! I had to level up, which involved playing levels over and over again, gaining more experience, and more treasure to buy upgrades.
After the first couple walls, I progressed very quickly through the next four or five levels. Then hit a wall.
Grind and repeat.
The final boss, Medusa, finally switches up the strategy and requires a different approach.
Nintendo Life ended their review by saying:
Even if a title tries to sell over-simplicity and crudity by adopting an 8-bit aesthetic, that doesn’t excuse lazy, unimaginative design and execution. This lacks strategy and skill, and is as mindless as they come; playing Witch & Hero feels like a chore, and it would be served better as a free PC flash game than a paid-for 3DS eShop release.
And Destructoid said:
Witch and Hero takes a simple, charming concept and somehow manages to make it repetitive, dry, and unfun. Given the price, you’re better off skipping this retro-centric experience in favor of the endless sea of classics on the 3DS eShop.
For me, the simplicity actually worked in the game’s favor! And here’s why.
What are you looking for in a game?
People play games for different reasons. For example, I love the story-driven, complicated Final Fantasy games. FF is one of my favorite series! But even I can’t stomach FF after FF. They take a lot emotional energy to play, a lot investment.
In between “serious” games with “depth,” I like to play simpler games.
And where I’m at right now with my gaming, at this moment, WAH was a short distraction, a snack between meals. It didn’t take me that many hours to complete: I had it finished in four days.
That’s the right amount of enjoyment for $2.50.
Sure, the game is simple, but so what? If I compare this to NES games, I actually had a lot more fun in these few hours than I had in tens of hours playing certain games as a kid. While the game involved some grinding, it was fair. It was manageable. It was doable.
This game feels like it could’ve existed on the NES. Now, in reality, that wouldn’t have worked, as this game has too many objects on the screen at once, something the NES never could’ve handled. WAH feels like a natural evolution of NES-era technology, similar to how Shovel Knight also bends some of the NES rules slightly to make a quality game.
You have to tell yourself the story
I thought the story behind WAH was delightfully charming. Most games have you start as low level heroes, progress through obstacles, and then defeat the final boss. WAH starts with the final boss, and the heroes get their butts kicked!
WAH is like a sequel, the second part of a two-part story. The Witch and the Hero set out together to restore the Witch’s body, defeat Medusa, and save the town.
Some of the levels give a tiny bit of story in the form of grammatically incorrect text screens, but most of the time, the story is nonexistent.
Or is it? The top screen of the 3DS shows a world map, so as I progressed from level to level, I imagined my heroes in the woods, crossing the desert, crossing the mountains, entering the caves, traipsing through the graveyard, struggling through the ice lands, until finally I got to Medusa’s realm.
When a game doesn’t provide a story for me, I often make up my own story. I did a similar thing when I tried beating Final Fantasy I with all white mages, if you recall.
Even though you play as the Hero (I’m sure Anita Sarkeesian would see WAH as another example of the damsel in distress trope), to me, the Witch felt more important. The monsters want to attack her, not me! Sure, the monsters kill me sometimes, but that’s only because I attack them and they defend themselves. I’m like a mosquito that they keep swatting away.
The Witch is powerful. The monsters want to destroy her, even though she’s already stone. The Witch is the actual hero of the game.
Hero is just the errand boy who collects the monster blood for her and drags her stone body across the world.
A game doesn’t need cinematics or paragraphs of text to tell a story. The story can be told through the gameplay.
After several hours, I got attached to these characters. I felt bad when the Witch got destroyed (over and over and over again). I felt like I was letting her down.
The final duel with Medusa has a fun twist, which I won’t spoil. But it further deepened the story that I’d already developed in my head.
If you’re looking for a cheap, fun diversion, I highly recommend Witch and Hero. I wasn’t disappointed. Despite the game’s simplicity, I created some fun memories with this game, and I suspect these two characters will stick with me long after I close the 3DS.