Now, here's a re-release no one saw coming. When Bullet Witch, developed by the defunct Cavia, was first released in 2006 for Xbox 360 as one of those Japanese exclusives that marked the first two years of the console's existence, it didn't exactly set the world in fire. A commercial and critical failure, the most notable feature of this third-person shooter was its titular main character. I have the game too - as I tend to collect titles with female protagonists - but didn't play it much simply because there were better games to play at the time. However, it seems that Bullet Witch enjoys some kind of a cult status. XSEED points out in its bulletin that it wanted to bring "new generations of gamers the opportunity to experience hidden gems from the past", and apparently new PC conversion of Bullet Witch fits that staple. So, let's have an open mind and see if time has been kind to the game.
Before Platinum Games presented us their own witch Bayonetta, there was the pensive Alicia who wasn’t at all a wisecracking hellcat. As with any good witch, she has a broom (no cat, though), only it isn't exactly your flying kind of broom. What Alicia is touting is a gun rod, used to cast spells and mow down demon-born enemies that harvest the remains of mankind. When Bullet Witch was released, it was set in the not-so distant future of 2013. Humanity is on the verge of extinction after a series of world-wide catastrophes. The latest sees hordes of demon-controlled cruel soldier ghosts seizing the planet and mercilessly slaughtering everyone in sight. Apparently, Alicia succeeded in her mission to take out the demon scum, as the world today, after five years of the events in the game, is still treading along.
Bullet Witch isn’t a remaster but almost straight port of Xbox 360 version. Still, you could call it a "definite edition" because it includes all the DLC. Alternative costumes for Alicia are available right from the start (they don’t show up in cutscenes, though) and extra missions are unlocked after completing the main campaign. The resolution is, of course, better and lighting effects have been slightly touched up. Most importantly, the game runs smoothly compared to the extremely choppy original. There are only few graphics options to tinker with (resolution, shadows, anti-aliasing, mipmapping and FPS scaling) but on the plus side the game runs fine on a modest PC hardware too.
And that’s it, there are no further visual enhancements. The game wasn’t much of a looker 12 years ago and it looks even more outdated with its drab environments and bland color scheme. Alicia herself looks nice, though. Her slender and leggy figure is nimbly animated and her face is beautiful. She doesn’t look like a generic, plastic video game character but more of a person with characteristic features. There’s not much enemy variation, but their designs are truly grotesque, if somewhat rough around the edges. The game features only English dub but I found Alicia’s indifferent but youthful voice curiously appealing. Too bad about other voices, though.
To be fair, when Bullet Witch first came out, it already felt aged. Stages look and feel big and open, but in truth they’re pretty straightforward. Sometimes the path forward is blocked with colored barriers and you have to seek out and eliminate the corresponding floating brain demon (or as the game puts it, a walnut head) to open the way. Thus, the path is always more or less paved, so there’s not much chance of going astray. Six chapters of the game take place in the city and in the forest, areas that are not so much characteristic than customary. Few boss fights are a bit peculiar. Some of the big monsters must be avoided altogether and some, instead of peppering them full of lead, have to be rounded into environmental hazards. Blowing up sets with Alicia’s witchcraft is always fun (mind the flying debris!) and was one feature that felt fresh back in 2006.
The in-game camera is somewhat wonky and makes targeting enemies unnecessarily wobbly. Luckily, the enemies’ hit rate is similar to that of Stormtroopers. On a normal difficulty, I noticed some easing up in more busy set pieces compared to the Xbox 360 original. I can’t be sure, though, as it’s been some time since I played it. It could as well have been the poor frame rate that made things more difficult back then and now that’s been sorted out, the enemy encounters just felt smoother than I remembered. Making things a bit silly is that enemies don’t react to hits until they collapse into exaggerated death animations. Alicia’s dodge is animated in a slow and wide arch, so it’s better to just strafe out of danger’s way or summon Ancient wall between her and enemies. NPC soldiers who are supposed to help Alicia out rarely engage the enemies and most of the time only stand in the way and soak up hits, requiring Alicia to use her Sacrifice spell to revive them.
Performance in each chapter is graded, and the better you played, the more skills points you gain to power up Alicia’s abilities. Her health and magic points regeneration can be sped up, and new gun rod modes unlocked and improved. Shotgun for close combat, cannon for sniping and gatling gun for sustained damage complement the default machine gun. Also, the new witchcraft can be obtained, but the more powerful environmental spells are gained as the story progresses. Optional witchcraft isn’t essential but it can smooth some trickier encounters. Still, with a fully stocked up spell selection, I often resorted to the mechanical function of gun rod since choosing between spells via magic wheel isn’t exactly intuitive. I would have loved the option to map my favorite spells to the D-pad which the game doesn’t use at all.
Since Bullet Witch was technically and gameplaywise pretty old-fashioned to begin with, it must feel really lousy and awkward today, right? Surprisingly, no. Maybe it's just because the game was outdated on arrival, it hasn't aged further - as strange as it might sound. That works in favor for the game. Despite its drab looks, mostly ho-hum action and clunky gameplay, I had fun playing Bullet Witch. This time, unlike on Xbox 360, I didn’t leave the game unfinished but saw Alicia’s and mankind’s tale to the end. Developer Cavia saved the best part to the last chapter, with effective visuals and exciting environment to battle through, and a cool and massive final boss to tackle. A full playthrough takes just a tad over three hours but 18 extra missions, including remixed chapters and challenges with variable conditions in each, like not being able to use spells, will you keep busy after beating the game.
I found Bullet Witch refreshing among modern games that are so polished to the perfection that they have lost all personality in the process. Sure, Bullet Witch can be seen as camp by today’s standards, but that’s the gist of it - or maybe I just have better resilience as a veteran player. Even though the game might be largely forgotten in the big picture, I noticed that later titles by other developers have borrowed elements from it. For example, cars floating in the air and hurled at you on a bridge is very much reminiscent of a scene in Alan Wake and a swollen-headed geist-type with its twitchy movement is too much like clickers in The Last of Us to be a mere coincidence.
Objectively speaking, new and big budget third-person games with their lavish visuals and smooth controls are obviously better but they’re lacking something that Bullet Witch has bucketloads: rugged charisma. There's charming sincerity in the game’s gloomy tale and clumsy action, resulting in plenty of unintentional laughs. Bullet Witch is a like B-grade movie; it's far from perfect due to its modest production values but that's why you love it anyway. Who can I recommend the game as out of place and time than this to? At least not to tech-heads who find even 4K resolution insufficient. But anyone like me who enjoys curious games of the past, appreciates the Japanese penchant for drama, just loves pretty and moody female protagonists and is fed up with most of modern gaming fads can find plenty to like about Bullet Witch. It’s a shame they don’t make B-grade games like this anymore so this surprise conversion of Bullet Witch is most welcome, especially with a price tag of 15 bucks.
Video game nerd & artist. I've been playing computer and video games since the early 80's so I dare say I have some perspective to them. When I'm not playing, I'm usually at my art board.