On a purely conceptual basis, Bullet Witch is a brilliant idea. You have a hot, long-legged emo girl wearing skin tight clothing with a massive gun in the shape of a broom. Place her in a post-apocalyptic world with a palette of demons to eradicate and throw in destructible environments and graphic-intensive spells for good measure. Unfortunately, even with these great ideas you still have to have a solid game play mechanic, which, is where this game ultimately misses the mark and ends up being just another ho-hum action title.
In Bullet Witch, you assume the role of Alicia, a quiet girl bent on the destruction of demons and not much for small talk. The main campaign only consists of six stages and the final one being a rehash of the second is disappointing to say the least. While you can more than likely finish the campaign within 3-4 hour,s Atari has promised a series of downloadable concept missions and extra costumes to extend the game in the future. We had the luxury of previewing some of these missions and while they will give you new options, the backdrops remain mostly recycled from the core game.
These levels range from drab city streets, to the more luscious outdoor terrains complete with some destructible objects such as ceilings and even some structures. The first few levels will have you mindlessly wandering (and I have to stress wandering because the lack of a map really hurts) the level searching for giant brainstems known as Walnut Heads. Once defeated, these will open up invisible barriers in the world allowing you to progress; this ancient mechanic really doesn’t translate well and often times leads to tedious backtracking.
All is not lost though, as some of the levels feature some truly epic boss encounters. You will face mammoth-sized creatures that are truly grand in scale. While the actual fight may be a bit disorienting, especially the one that takes place at 30,000 feet, they really do break up the monotony of trekking from brain to brain to destroy invisible walls.
The real upside to progressing through the game though is the upgrades that Alicia earns during the course of the game. From the outset, you have a standard machine gun and a couple of spells, but as you get further into the story you will earn powers that almost make up for the game’s monotonous overtone. After each mission you can also upgrade almost every aspect of your repertoire including health regeneration and even purchase upgrades for your broom-stick (yeah, I just came up with that one). The nice part is that all of these transfer over and can be used in subsequent playthroughs of the game. This is especially good news for the Achievement guys who have to get the full 1000 points as you will have to beat the game several times to get them all.
Controlling your scantily-clad heroine will also provide more than a fair share of headaches throughout the game. The engine used for Bullet Witch was obviously not built for speed or optimization and it shows. Targeting is seems to have a mind of its own; sometimes you will lock dead on an enemy no problem and other times you will swivel back and forth endlessly without much success.
The spell menu is also convoluted and hard to manage. When you tap the left or right bumper buttons, it brings up a spell menu that literally takes up most of the screen. This distorts your view to a point that trying to actually move and shoot while this menu is up is pretty much useless. It is also annoying that some spells require you to aim them after casting them, and one small attack will completely reset the action. By the end of the game, I had the more important spells memorized, and unless I was required to use them, I stuck to my trusty firearm for most of the heavy lifting.
There are also a few other things that plague the single-player game. The first is brain-dead AI. It is not uncommon to watch enemies mindlessly walk into walls for no apparent reason. You can literally jump through a bulk of the game and avoid ever taking a hit as the enemies almost seem confused by your swan-like acrobatics. The second gripe comes in the form of instant death. I honestly do not remember ever dying in this game by being shot until my health depleted. Most of the time my death came from a quick one shot kill from a sniper or a faulty collision detection issue with a car across the level. Needless to say, I died a lot and most of the time I had no idea why.
Now let’s talk visuals. When Bullet Witch was released almost a year ago in Japan, what you get here may have been acceptable. Unfortunately, since then we have seen some truly impressive titles emerge that show what the hardware can truly do. The environments themselves are deceiving to the naked eye. In screenshots they appear vast and full of life, but in the game they are chock full of invisible walls and poor lighting effects.
The enemy design also leaves much to be desired. You will spend most of the game staring at the same recycled demon with a helmet and machine gun or floating colored brain number 50. It’s really sad honestly, as the game has a certain art style that really could be fleshed out if there was just more here to look at. I have to give Atari props as the game itself is certainly a great example of fan service. Take for instance the jacket that comes with the game, has a reversible sleeve that has the original Japanese boxart on the reverse side.
When I look back at my time with this game, I have to say that I personally enjoyed the overall experience. It may not sound like it from this review, but being a fan of mindless action games I found enough here to keep me playing to the end. While there were several instances where I had to ask why they made that design choice, the game will entertain those who enjoy the genre. If you love generic Japanese action games with half-naked emo chicks, then this will satisfy your hunger for the mediocre-ness they provide. However, if you are hardcore shooter fan looking for the next “great thing”, then steer clear of this one. Bullet Witch is a niche title that will find it’s audience but never extend any further than that.