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Violet Wisteria Review

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Violet Wisteria does a fair amount of harking. It harks back to the golden age of platform hack-and-slashers, from Altered Beast to Castlevania. It’s also hard not to look at Violet and avoid thinking of the Valis series from the ‘80s and ‘90s, which kicked off with Valis: The Fantasm Soldier. This is nostalgia bait, and the bait worked well enough to snag us. 

Where we misjudged Violet Wisteria was in thinking that it wouldn’t have anything new to offer. This is actually quite a bold title, trying its hand at something new – for its sins. You definitely can’t accuse Violet Wisteria of lacking innovation. 

Violet Wisteria review 1
Back to the good old days of hack and slashing

That creativity is tied to a colour-matching system. Each enemy has woken up in the morning and put on a blue, white or red pair of shorts. This determines what they are strong against, rather than what they’re weak against. Red is strong against red attacks, and so on. But there is a combat triangle at play, and the red is defeated by blue attacks, the blue defeated by white, and the white defeated by red. 

You can probably guess what happens next. At a tap of the button, our main character Violet can switch the hue of her sword. Much of the time in Violet Wisteria is spent anticipating the next enemy, working out their colour-attunement, and attacking with it. 

It sounds easy and really should be. If we as human beings can’t remember three colours and their counterpoints then we’re doomed. But, for the life of me, it never became natural, and we’d like to compile a case for the Defence as to why that doesn’t make us look stupid. 

For one, the enemies aren’t abundantly clear what colour they reference. Oh, some most definitely are a specific colour: a late-game Hydra has three very clearly defined heads, for example. But the grunts within the levels might have white skin but red shorts, or blue eyes but red shirts. Some enemies have coloured icons floating above them, adding another layer of confusion. There’s always the vague undercurrent of uncertainty, and Violet Wisteria desperately needed to be confident in its colours. 

Then there’s the abstraction. Why does one colour beat another? We couldn’t help but look wistfully at our Pokemon Red cartridge, wishing Violet Wisteria was as simple as water beats fire. With some elemental rock-paper-scissoring, the concept might have stuck more. We kept pausing to view a diagram of what beats what. 

Violet Wisteria review 2
What colour beats what?

Of course, it’s possible to get there. You can find things second-nature. But then you’re asked to use enemies and blocks as springboards. Hit a blue enemy with a blue attack and you will launch yourself over unspannable chasms. Boff a coloured block and you can spring upwards. But now you have to context-switch: you need to be the same colour. 

Even now, as I write this, it seems so obvious. How can anyone find that tough? But in the melee of combat, when stakes are high and there are millisecond windows to get things right, it’s very easy to, well, not get it right. You hit a red enemy with a red sword and go flying into oblivion. With a limited life pool and continues, getting it wrong can be costly. And it’s just all wrapped up in an awkward, unwieldy ball of action-platforming. 

There’s a cost, too. By adopting the colour-matching system, the game couldn’t throw difficult enemies at you at speed. Kanipro Games at least acknowledges that a player needs time to switch their attacks. So, the creatures you fight are slightly plodding and have barely an attack to share between them (outside of the bosses, of course). Take away the colour-switching and this would look a very pedestrian, unmodern game. 

There is a paradox here, though, because it’s also quite a difficult game. Stir in the colour-matching and its foibles, plus large sprites that leave little room for error on jumps, a limited health pool, and some gnarly bosses and you have quite the challenging game. We find that the best games make you feel like a gaming adonis, able to parkour around levels with the press of minimal buttons. Violet Wisteria made us feel precisely the opposite. We bumbled through the levels, half-remembering the combat triangle and dying to precise jumps and enemies that moved at 5mph. Somehow, it made us feel somewhat stupid, and even the best speedrunners will struggle to feel like they are a gaming powerhouse. 

Violet Wisteria review 3
Violet tries, but it’s hard to recommend

But for all the criticisms, there are still some glimmers of promise in Violet Wisteria. There is most definitely an authentic Golden Axe-flavour to the enemies and world. We could have stumbled upon it in a Genesis collection and assumed it was from that period. The bosses are screen-fillers who dial up the colour-comprehension and game-speed suitably (if painfully). And as you’d hope from this kind of game, the soundtrack is something of a banger. 

We hesitate to recommend Violet Wisteria, though. It caused us too much pain to look back at it fondly. The matching of colours to enemies is creakily executed, and ends up being a source of muddlement rather than adrenaline. And if you were to strip that colour system out, you’d be left with an action-platformer that’s too flavourless and slow to leave any kind of lasting impression. 

Violet Wisteria ends up being one of those games that shoots for the stars but doesn’t get close to leaving the atmosphere. Now what did blue beat again?

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