I very rarely play a puzzler if I’m being honest, mainly because I struggle to feel connected to a game unless there’s a formative level of action or roleplaying. It actually made me a little dubious about how much I’d enjoy Witching Tower, the puzzle-focused release from developer Daily Magic Productions that has just hit PlayStation VR, but it had that little *something* about it that made me want to check it out. I’m glad I did too, with the game’s blend of puzzling and healthy dose of action making for a thoroughly enjoyable experience for any virtual reality fan.
The game kicks off with the player stuck in a dungeon tower cell and facing off against an evil queen as she monologues her power over you. It’s all a little bit Disney, but it’s a trope that’s used to good effect here. After she has finished discussing the finer points of evil, you get to set off on your adventure. Your first task is to find a key to your chains and release a glowing spirit skull head who’ll act as a constant companion on your journey from the top of the tower to the bottom.
The first thing to note about Witching Tower is that it is a very attractive PlayStation VR title. The setting is gothic in a pretty cartoony way, but it’s nailed really well in-game and suits the vibe of the experience perfectly. Each area in game is kept consistent between the array of stained glass windows and crumbling dark stone architecture, and it really delivered on adding to the immersion of the experience as a whole – you’ll certainly feel like you’re exploring this treacherous tower that has stood for a long, long time. Also to note, despite playing on PlayStation VR which can be notorious for its blurry visuals, I am happy to report that everything is quite smooth in-game. Sure, it’s the optimised kind of smooth where you’ll notice a few rough edges here and there, but my pet hate in virtual reality is having to squint through blurriness and I didn’t have to do that here.
The first couple of puzzles you encounter will be a cinch that prepare you for a steadily increasing difficulty. In all honesty, for someone who doesn’t really go for puzzle-type games, this pleasantly surprised me. I enjoyed each puzzle as it came and found that the game cleverly finds a nice balance in its puzzle-design of having the player utilise both their intelligence and practicality. Each puzzle has a sure-fire way of being solved and there’s no deviance from that roadmap, but there was something extra immersive about each once which could only be made possible through virtual reality that got me genuinely invested in solving them all.
You’ll find a wrist pouch very early on in the game that will allow you to store your gear and it is inescapably handy for holding bombs and various other items that will help you on your journey to escape the horror of the tower. It’s a very simplistic approach to having some nuance of an inventory system and to be fair, it is effective and made my journey a lot easier. Other items like torches, swords and the trusty bow that you’ll pick up in the prison area will snap to your belt like you’re some sort of medieval Batman. I did occasionally find myself frustrated with the belt clip as the tracking was a little skewed though, and some items could be a little hard to take out or put back unless at a very specific angle. It’s not a game breaker, but just enough to draw my ire at times.
With regards to the combat itself, it’s all very simplistic. Normally, enemies will range from bats to dogs and skeletons, with no real foe to encounter that you wouldn’t have seen in plenty of other games in the past. A couple of hits from a torch, bow or sword will dispatch an enemy with ease, whilst it’s fairly easy to avoid most of their attacks too. As you progress you will come across enemies that are a little tougher or have shields, but again they hold no real challenge. It’s not that the combat is bad, but it lacks any degree of depth so you won’t be getting anything as rich as what you might have experienced in similar titles on PlayStation VR. Still, at least it doesn’t detract from the main theme of the game, which is puzzling and exploration.
You’ll have access to a couple of tools throughout Witching Tower, the main ones being magical vision (which will show you things that you can’t see normally) and a magical green lasso. The lasso is hilarious fun; you’ll need it a lot for the puzzles, but it’s amazing when you latch on to a crumbly overhang to pull it crashing down, bludgeoning some poor skeleton to an eternal slumber.
Witching Tower will only set you back around two hours to full completion if you keep a steady pace (or dependent on how good you are at solving puzzles) so it’s not a long journey. You can spend time finding hidden collectible cards on each level that will add time for the completionists among you, though admittedly it didn’t feel too rewarding. I actually wished the game was a little longer, but perhaps that was because I found a puzzle-focused experience I actually quite enjoyed – that’s pretty unusual for me!
Witching Tower is a neat action-puzzler that nails both the gothic setting and the well-designed enigmas it sends your way. It’s visually wonderful and exceptionally well optimised for PlayStation VR, and it satisfyingly had me wracking my brain and using synapses I never thought I had.
Despite this, I do feel that it was a little short and the combat lacked the depth which I’ve come to enjoy in other games. It manages to get its core features such as puzzling spot on, but I wish that it just did that little bit more with things like combat to make it feel more pivotal to the game as opposed to being something you just HAD to do on the way to the next puzzle. Still, there’s more good than bad here, and I’d certainly recommend Witching Tower to any PlayStation VR gamers who enjoy a puzzle-solving escapade.
Developer: Daily Magic Productions
Publisher: Daily Magic Productions
Platform(s): PlayStation VR (Reviewed), HTC Vive, Oculus Rift