“What if witches gave up magic in favour of big effin guns?” I’m not sure if that’s exactly the elevator pitch Rainbite used to sell publisher eastasiasoft on Trigger Witch, but it can’t be too far off. And you know what? It works: a twin-stick shooter with a light action-adventure touch, set in a vibrant fantasy world where magic is lost (mostly) and firearms are witches’ new way of life.
It’s exactly as silly as it sounds, knowingly and deliberately. Showers of blood and spent ammunition sitting in stark, ludicrous contrast to a colourful world that looks like it should be home to something closer to The Legend of Zelda. The witchy coven at the game’s centre, known as “The Clip”, celebrates guns with a religious fervour (“Ballisticism”), thanks in no small part to the mystical “Ordnance Rift” that provides weapons to those deemed worthy, and an unlimited supply of magical bullets.
Filled with self-aware, tongue-in-cheek humour and a whole lot of gun-related puns, a concept that could easily fall flat instead paves the way for wild (and wildly entertaining) ride, as you try to save the world with a hail of bullets and uncover the mysteries of its magical past. There’s a satirical streak to it, in the way it turns guns into objects of worship (sound familiar?), but it also has a degree of heart that’s a little surprising, given the wilfully silly premise. The stories that unfold between Colette, a freshly-ordained member of The Clip destined to save the world, and her family and childhood friends go in some thoughtful, moving directions as they reflect on the nature of duty and privilege, and the latter half of the game buts a surprising, clever twist on what begins as a simple quest to stop a bad guy and save the world.
The twin-stick action is slick and satisfying, eschewing the danmaku-inspired bullet patterns that have become common in the genre in favour of something more chaotic and unpredictable. Finely-tuned controls and Colette’s mobility make that chaos work, though, resulting in frantic, energetic encounters. Unlimited ammo is balanced out by weapons that can’t be manually reloaded—they do so automatically while not currently in use—encouraging frequent switching, kicking that dynamic energy up another notch. It’s not exactly deep, and there isn’t a huge amount of mechanical variety among enemies despite their unique visual designs, but there’s enough raw excitement in the simple gunplay loop and increasingly dangerous hordes to keep Trigger Witch going.
That’s balanced out by dungeons and an overworld map that are right out of a Zelda-ish top-down action adventure. Secrets and hidden paths scattered all over the map encourage exploration, as does the general atmosphere of charming pixel art and environmental design that channels those 16-bit classics. Dungeons are full of enemies, obviously, but also plenty of puzzles, typically revolving around trying to activate various switches by ricocheting bullets off walls. In some of the better-designed puzzles, the unique quirks of Colette’s growing arsenal factor in, too—a flamethrower comes in really handy in an ice dungeon, it turns out—though there’s a missed opportunity to do more with this idea.
Boss fights stand out, cleverly mixing the core twin-stick action with the “find a way to expose its weak spot!” puzzle-boss design often favoured by action-adventure games. They sometimes go down a little too quickly to fully show off their gimmicks, even on harder difficulties, but that’s better than a bullet sponge. And for something a little different, every now and then, Trigger Witch will let you jump on a broomstick while it turns into a scrolling shooter for bit.
While Trigger Witch doesn’t exactly push the boundaries of the heavily-populated genres it draws from, it mixes them together in a satisfying way. Frenetic twin-stick shooter action backed by tight controls and fluid movement never loses its touch, while exploration, hidden secrets, and puzzle-filled dungeons bring some balance into the mix. The story of gun-worshipping witches who’ve given up on magic is just playful and self-aware enough to work, with a satirical touch and unexpectedly heartfelt moments to help keep it at least a little grounded. It may not be the most original, but there’s an exciting, enjoyable romp to be found in Trigger Witch—long live Ballisticism!
Genre: Twin-stick shooter, action-adventure
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.