After impressing PC gamers in its Early Access form earlier this year, Ritual: Crown of Horns has now made its way to the Nintendo Switch, bringing with it a uniquely vicious twist on the traditional Western formula by not having you take down cowboys and lawbreakers, but instead a horde of vicious creatures that are out for your blood.
It should have been a typical kill for one Western gunslinger when he was tasked with taking down a witch, but things took a horrible turn when he ended up getting killed by some monstrous horned creatures. Fortunately, said witch may not actually be as bad as he thought, and she ends up resurrecting him so he can help her take down not only the beasts that slain him but also the force that they are working for. That’s Ritual: Crown of Horns’ tale in a nutshell, with the player taking on the role of the gunslinger and killing enemies in twin-stick shooting action across a multitude of levels.
Ritual: Crown of Horns’ gameplay should feel familiar to just about anyone who has played a twin-stick shooter before: you’re armed with a variety of weapons, use the left-stick to move around, the right-stick to aim (you also have to hold the left shoulder button down here) and then press the fire button to unleash hell. Interestingly, the game has an auto-aim function in place that’ll target your nearest enemy, but you can also just move the right-stick if you want a bit more freedom. You’re also armed with a dash that can get you out of harm’s way quickly, as well as a bunch of spells that can dish out some serious damage fast.
The gameplay mechanics are easy to get used to and the controls of the game are decent, which is good seeing as you’re put in high pressure situations. See, the levels of Ritual: Crown of Horns are based around protecting the witch as she performs a three-minute ritual, with hordes of enemies forcing their way to her location to wipe her out. Typically, she’ll be fixed to one location, but there’ll also be levels where she shifts around a bit too. What adds to the pressure is the fact that enemies behave differently – some will focus on targeting the witch, whilst others will hunt you down. You’ve got to balance out which ones you prioritise killing, all whilst watching out for the incoming attacks that come from all directions. It can be pretty tough and there’s a real demand for quick strategic thinking, with one wrong move either seeing the witch or yourself die fast. It might sound daunting, but the tension helps make Ritual: Crown of Horns all the more fun to play.
You are well-armed to take out your enemies though. Whilst you begin the game with a revolver and shotgun (typical Western weapons), you’ll eventually get the likes of a crossbow, rifle, and even some not-so-Western weapons that are VERY effective at killing. It’s up to you to work out what weapons are best for each situation, with the player expected to swap regularly during levels. There’s a strategic element attached to this though, with swapped weapons reloading automatically if you’re not using them. It might sound like a small feature, but it’s one that will certainly encourage you to pick your moments to switch weapons around.
Your spells can be imperative to your success too, with each one providing you with a welcome (and deadly) boost that can wipe out foes quick. The first spell you have turns you into a swirling-blade temporarily for example, which is an excellent means to slaughter a small group of enemies fast. You can only use magic by killing enemies though, with each death rewarding you with a soul – spells require different amounts of souls to use, so you’ve got to make sure you have enough. It’s worth noting that dashing uses up a soul too, so you’ll want to keep a close eye on your soul meter otherwise you might find yourself running low and unable to get away from a deadly situation. The witch will also occasionally throw boosts out for the player to collect, with things like quick reloads, a faster speed, and a souls multiplier proving incredibly useful in the heat of battle.
In-between missions you’ll visit a safe haven where you can change up your weapons, spells, gear and choose your next mission. You can only take a certain amount of equipment into each level, so working out what’s best for you can be the difference between life or death – there are also challenge levels in place that encourage you to play in a specific way too, so sometimes a particular weapon or spell will prove more effective there. It’s always worth fiddling around with your loadout though, with the different gear you equip bringing with them some highly effective buffs.
Everything in Ritual: Crown of Horns comes together nicely to make for an enjoyable twin-stick shooting experience, but boy is it tough. Enemies are deadly, levels can take some figuring out, whilst the fact you’ve got to protect both yourself and the witch means there’s extra pressure on the player – you can certainly expect to die a LOT throughout the game. However, the levels themselves are only minutes long so it’s never too annoying to play through them again, whilst the tactical elements tied to the gameplay makes it all the more rewarding when you do succeed. It’s challenging, but in an encouraging way that pushes the player to try harder.
Ritual: Crown of Horns is a fun twin-stick shooting experience that priorities tactical thinking as much as it does action-packed killing. It’s bloody tough too, so you won’t get away with mindless killing – you’ve really got to think everything through if you want both you and the witch to survive each level, though the abundance of weapons and spells at your disposal do help too. It might sound daunting, but it actually makes the game all the more enjoyable, especially when you finally conquer that level you’d been stuck on for the last twenty-minutes…
There’ll be plenty of challenges to face along the way and it’ll certainly test your skills, but twin-stick shooting fans won’t want to miss out on Ritual: Crown of Horns.
Developer: Draw Distance
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PC