Irony Is Its Own Reward

HIGH Getting the Three (not-so) Little Pigs Their Just Desserts

LOW The lack of closure on a particular plot point.

WTF That unicorn’s aim sucks.

The crafting genre frequently goes hand-in-hand with the survival genre as developers try to pad out the amount of time players will spend in barren wastelands, but the pure joy of finding items and transforming them into something new can be a good time on its own without constant interruptions from hunger and sleep meters. Wytchwood proves that crafting can stand on its own, and tells a charmingly dark story while doing so.

This cartoon-styled 2D adventure kicks off when the Witch — a bird-limbed monstrosity with a cauldron for a head — wakes up and finds her memory has been erased. A demonic goat explains that she’s been entrusted with saving the life of a sleeping-beauty-style lady, and the only thing he’ll accept for his part of the bargain are the souls of twelve local villains. From there the player heads out into an open world and follows a series of quest chains to collect these souls and save the woman! It would be an entirely heroic endeavor if the witch’s methods weren’t so frequently monstrous.

Every villain the game presents is rotten to the core. From slave-driving farmers who feed their exhausted workers to the animals to bankers that sabotage their patrons so that they’ll default on their loans and lose their land, they’re all the worst of the worst. Even so, actions of the witch can still seem horrible as Wytchwood embraces black comedy with an almost inappropriate glee.

The primary activity during the Witch’s quest is collecting reagents to build spells, which frequently involves catching and killing super adorable animals. Crafting a trap, set it down, then wait patiently for an animal to wander over and explode into fountain of blood. It’s so brutal that I found it crossed over the line and became hilarious, although that will probably not be true for all audiences.

In addition to tracking down animal-based reagents, players develop the spells they’re going to use by examining their surroundings. The Witch has a special vision mode that she can use to pause the world and examine every interactable item. Every character, monster, or obstacle has a weakness, and by scanning them, the Witch will ‘remember’ the spell she’ll need to deal with the problem.

In a practical sense, Wytchwood‘s goal is to fill up the Witch’s grimoire so that she can deal with all of the villains, but from moment to moment, it doesn’t feel like the player is checking items off of a list. Wytchwood manages to create a sense of adventure and discovery with each new spell. It’s a feat of design that every new combination manages to solve a problem in a completely unexpected and frequently humorous way. For example, when they stumble upon a gob of goblin snot in the first area, how could they expect that they’d be processing it into an antacid to cure a leviathan’s tummyache five hours later? One invention leads to the next until, at the end of the chain, a villain is getting their comeuppance.

While Wytchwood‘s map isn’t particularly large — there are eight different small biomes, each with a couple of sub-maps related to quests — every area is packed with beautifully-rendered details. Players will never have to tke more than a few steps to find something to dig out of the ground, slice off with some shears, or murder with a trap. The result is a world that feels more alive than I’m used to in crafting-focused titles. Instead of spending hours searching nooks and crannies for a particular mushroom, I scooped up valuables everywhere I went, and the game’s utter lack of inventory limits ensures that item collection never turns into a Sophie’s Choice-type situation.

Wytchwood does have one major drawback, however — the last third of the game is a little more grindy than everything that came before.

The first nine souls the Witch must track down involve going to new places and discovering new challenges, but the last three are in maps the player has already seen. Players then have to build incredibly complex items made out of the most challenging-to-obtain reagents in the game. I understand the design idea here — take the player on a tour of every location in the game before the credits roll — but it winds up feeling like a slog, and if I hadn’t been so interested to see how the story turned out, I would have found myself massively discouraged.

I’m used to crafting-themed games being huge, sprawling, self-guided odysseys, so compared to them, Wytchwood is a bite-sized revelation. It’s bleak, it’s funny, and it has character for days. By focusing on the story and puzzles, it creates an item-focused adventure that rarely wastes the player’s time, and then gets out on one heck of a high note. This one is a truly charming adventure that’s as gruesome as it is sweet.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Alientrap and published by Whitehorn Digital and Whispergamers. It is currently available on PC/XB1/PS4/Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via digital download and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 15 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode. The game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: This game was not rated by the ESRB, and it contains Blood, Cartoon Violence, and Bawdy Humour. While the cuteness says ‘teen’, the fairly bleak stories that fill the game, and all of the exploding birbs tilt this more towards adults. Also, there are quite a number of cleverly-hidden dirty jokes. Safer for older teens at the youngest.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I played almost the entire game without sound and encountered zero difficulties. All dialogue is subtitled, subtitles cannot be resized. (See example above.) The game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: Yes, the game’s controls are remappable.

Daniel Weissenberger
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Senthas Yumeron
Senthas Yumeron
1 year ago

Hey Daniel, I really like this review. Honestly, you covered the details I expected.