The Legend of Dark Witch Review (3DS eShop)

“O Mega Man, Mega Man, wherefore art thou Mega Man?”

That’s what I kept saying to myself while playing The Legend of Dark Witch. There’s so many moments in this witchy side-scroller that almost scratched my Blue Bomber itch, but never quite so. All the right components are in place–gripping boss fights, expressive enemies, solid physics–and yet there still something that’s amiss in this CIRCLE Entertainment-published title. This something isn’t entirely apparent at first because, as I mentioned, The Legend of Dark Witch does a fairly decent impersonation of its distant cybernetic cousin, but taking a closer look reveals a major inherent flaw that begins to seriously hinder the overall experience.

While dubbing The Legend of Dark Witch an action platformer isn’t incorrect, it doesn’t quite convey some of the game’s more interesting mechanics, one of which is clearly lifted from Graduis of all things. Like the shoot ’em up classic, the main character Zizou (no, not that Zissou) charges up a tiered power meter as she blows through hordes of enemies, allowing her to obtain new abilities as the meter gradually builds. Most of these enhancements change the properties of the heroine’s standard projectile attack while others like “Wing” grant Zizou a graceful downward float. In theory this system is actually pretty interesting, and even in practice these upgrades are fairly nifty, but unfortunately the level design just doesn’t compliment these mechanics as well as it should.

Instead of striking a healthy balance between platforming and combat, levels often feel like they’re 70% bullet fodder, 30% platforming segments and very rarely is there any merging of the two. This is odd considering the game prides itself more as a platformer than shoot ’em up and, as such, The Legend of Dark Witch just feels hallow when it really shouldn’t–probably because the levels themselves don’t really capture the essence of either genre or at least not very well. Outside of the Gradius power meter, there are no signs of any other shmup influences, so really all you’re getting with The Legend of Dark Witch is a straightforward jump-and-shoot with a tacked on gimmick that leaves a whole lot to be desired and thus the entire formula tires rather quickly since it’s not like this premise hasn’t been done before.

There’s some solace to be found in boss fights, however, as they are actually quite challenging, especially on higher difficulties. Each formidable female foe is equipped with multiple attacks that oftentimes consume most of the screen, so good luck finding that fleeting window of opportunity. Even though wading through their respective levels is a total drag, these engaging skirmishes feel like they’ve been ripped right out of the Robot Masters handbook, and that’s definitely high praise worth considering. If players find themselves succumbing to these lovely ladies’ devastating charms, there’s also a shop at the stage select screen where life, health, and weapon upgrades can be purchased to ease the pain away. While I applaud this gesture to make the game more accessible, there’s something almost convoluted about this system that just rubs me the wrong way, but then again that’s probably the Mega Man fan in me talking more than anything.

It’s also worth mentioning that the weapons earned from these wicked women are largely disappointing rewards since there’s no good application for any of them during levels or even against bosses, that is unless we’re talking about the silly Bound Ring which can be easily exploited. Imagine the Metal Blade from Mega Man 2 except the blades now ricochet off walls infinitely–still as spammable as ever, though! Obviously players don’t have to utilize the Bound Ring to this capacity, but you’d think the designers wouldn’t want one weapon to single-handedly transform their game into a cakewalk, right?

So The Legend of Dark Witch isn’t the most inspired title to grace the eShop nor is it the most balanced, but there’s still things to like about CIRCLE’s latest offering. This game features an incredibly solid soundtrack of bouncy compositions that match the varied aesthetics decorating each level. I wouldn’t say any of these tracks are instant classics, but I definitely had a few stuck in my head after a few runs, namely the hypnotic beat that plays at the beginning of every level. Also, other than Gunvolt, there aren’t a whole lot of 3DS games that feature GBA-styled graphics, so The Legend of Dark Witch is a very welcomed exception in that regard. My absolute favorite aspect of this game is its wonderfully expressive sprite animations whether it be Zizou scratching her head in embarrassment or an ultra buff fire-breathing snowman flexing his bodacious pecs. It’s little visual quirks like these that give a title personality that no amount of dialogue or narrative could ever hope to achieve, and that’s certainly the case with this budget title.

snow bro

Do you want to body-build a snowman?

While I can appreciate the game’s effort in terms of presentation, The Legend of Dark Witch disappointed me only because it dabbled in some genuinely interesting ideas, but never bothered to do anything unique with them. There’s a certain level of competence exhibited here, though. The game handles well and is perfectly playable by all means, it’s even pretty fun at times, but it’s just a shame that this fun doesn’t sustain itself very well. Then again, The Legend of Dark Witch is a measly $3.99 on the eShop and I’m not about to say that I can’t recommend it at such low price point, especially when the package plays out like a mostly enjoyable albeit diet Mega Man experience.

Also witches, and it’s almost Halloween–you know what to do.

Well, yeah, you could be playing that other game with witches too, but this game isn’t half bad either. Besides, does Bayonetta 2 have hella buff snowmen in it? Actually, it probably does, but just let The Legend of Dark Witch have its day in the sun, okay?

The Legend of Dark Witch Review (3DS eShop)
Gameplay6.5
Presentation8
Replay Value7
Hella Buff Snowmen10
Pros
  • Healthy challenge
  • Great sprite animations
  • Very affordable
Cons
  • Squandered shmup elements
  • Boring level design
  • "Been there, done that" vibe
7Overall Score
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About The Author

Former Co-Editor

Trace Wysaske lives somewhere in Washington, and when he isn't compulsively hunting Green Stars or felling the Lagiacrus, he's writing about everything from forlorn Japanese teachers to well-mannered crows. He still needs to play Ghost Trick.