Platform: PlayStation 4
Developer: WayForward Technologies
Review Date: 11/21/20
Belle MacFae is a student at the Hagmore School Of Magic. One night while practicing some spells, a mysterious person shows up and ruins a magic potion that the elder witches are working on. Belle is blamed for the incident and forced to retrieve replacement ingredients for a new potion, although with the fate of the world at stake, it's not clear why they don't offer her any help.
It's a fun 2D platform game that's essentially identical to the early "Shantae" games. The pixel art is cute and colorful, and the art direction has a fun and spooky aesthetic. Most of the monsters you encounter in the school are typical haunted house creatures, like spiders, bats, skeletons, ghosts, and floating eyeballs, but you also run into laser sharks and Russian bears. The writing has a sharp sense of humor similar to "Shantae," and Belle's dialog is delightfully witty and sarcastic. The 8-bit retro soundtrack is also charming.
Unfortunately, there are several aspects where the game falters. Belle's jump is overly floaty and can be difficult to control, and her charged lightning spell is very awkward to use. It forces you to use two fingers on the controller, where you would normally just use your thumb. It feels like they could have easily mapped that to a different button. Similar to any "Metroidvania" game, the gameplay mostly involves fetching items and combining them in order to gain new powers and access new areas. However, even though the map is fairly small, it's not always clear where you should go next, and backtracking can be confusing. In hindsight, the objectives are spelled out pretty clearly, but during the game I was constantly struggling and had to resort to a walkthrough to figure out what to do. Either my attention to details completely fell apart or the game design and logic weren't obvious and went against standard conventions. That's one of the problems with being a middle-aged gamer. The game's low resolution also makes the minimalistic interface difficult to parse. Boss fights are challenging, but the final boss is ridiculously hard due to sluggish controls. There are no health items apart from hearts that enemies leave behind, so it's imperative that you defeat an optional boss to obtain a healing spell. Without that, I would have never finished the game. However, finding that boss isn't intuitive at all. It's a relatively short game that can be finished in 5-6 hours, which felt just about right.