Trouble Witches Neo

Year: 2011
Platform: Xbox 360
Publisher: SNK/Playmore
Genre: Shooter
Review Date: 7/20/11
Rating: ****

Fabulous! This super fun horizontal shooter is in the same vein as "Keio Flying Squadron" (1993) and "Deathsmiles" (2010), and adds some excellent features to the mix. The mystical Draupnir ring has shattered and the evil Amalgam sisters hold all of the pieces. It's up to you to guide a teenage magical girl through six levels of frenzied bullet hell action to defeat the Amalgam sisters and retrieve the Draupnir shards. Each girl is accompanied by a servant who provides cover fire and can also generate a magical shield barrier. Defeated enemies drop coins, which you can use to purchase weapon upgrades in the form of magical cards from Pumpkin Girl's floating store. The game has unlimited continues, so you can blaze through the entire thing in less than an hour by simply keeping your finger on the trigger. But like most shooters, you learn to finesse your strategy on multiple play-throughs, and that's where the game really shines. The most ingenious play mechanic is that you can only collect coins when you're not firing a weapon, which gives you a compelling reason to thoughtfully time your shots instead of relying on constant rapid-fire. The magical barrier also provides an additional strategic element, as it can turn enemy bullets into gold if you destroy your enemies before the shield disappears. The exceedingly meek and shy Pumpkin Girl (aka Autumn) is hilarious, and adds a nice break to the action. If you touch her too many times with your wand, her girlfriend shows up and kicks you out of the shop in a rage. Some of the weapon upgrades are very useful, while most of them don't make much of a difference.

There are six girls to choose from at the beginning of the game, with two unlockable characters and one that you can download from Xbox Live for $2. While the presentation and structure is very similar to "Deathsmiles," it's actually superior in many ways. Most notably, the story mode has full Japanese voice acting for all of the dialog, and the voice talent is quite good. It even has a full English dub, but I didn't bother listening to that. The localization is excellent and the translations fit the tone of the characters and their dialog. They're also spelled correctly and don't suffer from the artistic liberties taken in "Deathsmiles." You can also skip past the dialog sections quickly, which was a constant nuisance in "Deathsmiles." The graphics are colorful, the action is fast, the characters are mostly likable, the action is challenging but never cheap, and the game is full of silly humor and wacky Japanese sensibilities. And it's only $10 on Xbox Live, which is an incredible value considering the high quality of the game and how much replay value it has.

The game features numerous options, including the original arcade mode, an Xbox enhanced version, story mode, and challenge mode. The arcade version isn't particularly interesting, as it only takes up half the screen and the artwork is amateurish. The Xbox enhanced version is much more attractive and enjoyable. I really only have two complaints about the game. First of all, the sound effect that accompanies the back button is extremely loud and irritating. Secondly, I find it very annoying that you have to select a storage device for your game data, then select a storage device for your replay data, and finally dismiss a dialog box regarding leader boards before you can start to play. Does anyone care about these things? It's disruptive and only takes an extra 30 seconds to click through, but I prefer my games to boot up quickly and without user intervention - like they did in the old days.