I’m a big fan of the platformer genre and I really think platformers are one of the most accessible types of games for new players. The sheer variety of playstyles can easily be adapted for newbies and veterans alike. And developers both big and small can often build these games around basic concepts that produce magnificent results.
Take Sweet Witches for example; a game that describes itself as a modern spin on old arcade classics. Each level is a single-screen affair where the goal is to plant flowers in designated plots. There are a few catches though – first and foremost there is no jump button. Instead to get around you can summon magic ladders to go up and down platforms.
The first few levels will walk you through the basic mechanics of summoning ladders, climbing, and moving around. But it won’t be long before you are frantically running away from a variety of enemies that are trying to stop your flower planting spree.
These enemies are all able to climb the same ladders you can, including the ones you summon, so you’ll want to keep track of the entire screen as you play. There are also color-coded teleporters in some levels and your enemies can use them too.
The only two things exclusive to the player happens to be gift boxes that will give you a random weapon with one use. These consist of explosives, flying boxing gloves, and bear traps. But be careful, it’s possible to hurt yourself with these items too – or your friend if playing co-op. Each character also has a spell that is unique to them. These abilities can take out enemies or give movement buffs, which gives you good reason to try out each character.
It’s not a very elaborate concept, but I have to admit I had a ton of fun while playing Sweet Witches. A lot more than I was expecting to have.
The level and enemy design is difficult but never feels unfair, and completing a level, especially when you make it through unscathed, always feels rewarding. Learning the movements and attacks of new enemies, while keeping track of everything on screen, takes a lot more focus than you would expect from an adorable game about witches trying to get candy.
What really won me over though is the artstyle and dedication to design. Each of the four playable characters has their own style which affects their ladders, attacks, sounds, and animations. It’s above and beyond what you would expect for such an affordable game.
Beyond that, there are five different “worlds” to play through, each with plenty of levels which all culminate in a boss fight in the final level. Each level and map is full of little details that keeps things from ever feeling static, from the animated decor to the little animation sequences that take place behind the scenes. There is so much detail that makes the world of Sweet Witches just feel alive. This attention even extends to the enemies – some of which are just as cutesy as the main characters. Again, the enemies have their own unique design and animations that just show how much thought went into each and every one.
If you need more convincing that Sweet Witches is in fact adorable, there are penguins on pogo sticks and ducks that puff up and go poof upon being defeated. The duck is my absolute favorite enemy to fight purely because this is hilarious to watch.
But don’t take my word for it. The main menu has a gallery that shows off the concept art of characters that were and weren’t included in the final release. Again, it’s more than I would’ve ever expected when I first booted up Sweet Witches. Really, it’s a gem of a game that deserves more publicity than it has.
The only thing I can think to complain about is that Sweet Witches is a very short game. The story mode can be finished in about 30 minutes if you manage to run through it without dying – something that I would be amazed you could do in your first time playing. But it is short enough where two or three hours of playtime is plenty for getting through it. This will of course depend on your aptitude for arcade-style games, but I can’t imagine it would take most people any longer than a solid weekend of playing to get through.
To be fair, there are technically two story modes to play through; the first as Praline or Vanille, the two cute friendly witches. Praline is the one with a sinister-looking hat while Vanille literally walks around with a duck on her head. The levels they play are identical to each other, with exceptions to their animations, magic spell, and boss fight that takes place on the last level. If playing as Praline you’ll go against Anis – an evil-looking witch with a sinister smile – and Vanille goes up against Réglisse – a gloomy girl with an even sadder pumpkin.
Funnily enough, beating one of them unlocks a second story mode where you can instead take control of either Anis or Réglisse. This additional story mode takes place over the same levels but instead of planting flowers you are pulling them up. Some enemies are also different and it’s actually in this second story mode where you encounter the previously mentioned exploding duck which, as I said, is just the funniest thing. Otherwise, it’s structured the same way as the first campaign and will work more as a second playthrough than a new experience.
There is also a versus mode where you can compete with your friends to see who can plant more flowers faster. This can improve the replayability a bit, but I think the main game is the defining feature.
All of that said, Sweet Witches on Xbox One is a near-perfect example of how you can take a simple concept and turn it into a vibrant game that is non-stop fun. It may be short but there is a host of stuff that has been magnificently created. All I can do is recommend that you pick up a copy for yourself, because Sweet Witches really is a treat.