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Japanator Recommends: Trouble Witches NEO

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A few years ago I stumbled upon a demo for a very cute doujin PC shooter called Trouble Witches. Having more than a little fondness for both shmups and cute anime girls in witch hats, I was very interested in tracking down the full game. It wasn't until some time in 2010 that I was able to find a copy at a convention. When I bought it, the vendor told me that there was actually an arcade version of the game in Japan.

Now with the XBLA release I've not only been able to get a brand-new updated version called Trouble Witches NEO, but it comes with the complete arcade version as well. My Trouble Witches collection is complete! Was it worth all the waiting? Check the full review to find out.

Trouble Witches NEO (XBLA)
Developer: Studio Siesta
Publisher: SNK
Release Date: April 27, 2011
MSRP: 800 Microsoft Points (US$10)

Trouble Witches NEO is a horizontal sidescrolling shooter, putting you in control of one of nine female characters, along with her animal companion, as she shoots her way through six increasingly hectic stages. That synopsis may remind some of you of last year's excellent Death Smiles, though the games share few similarities past those common to the genre.

The friendly shopkeeper.

There are two main modes available on the title screen: 360 Mode and Arcade mode. Arcade is a straight port of the version from Japanese arcades, with no real extra frills. Aesthetically, 360 Mode is optimized for high definition wide screen TVs and features nicer, re-done artwork. It also gives you more game mode choices: 360 mode (basically an updated Arcade mode), Story mode (arcade mode with added openings and dialog before the boss fights), challenge mode (containing score attack and boss rush modes), and online multiplayer over Xbox Live.

Trouble Witches has some elements to distinguish it from other shooters, though is a simple game to pick up and play, requiring only a joystick or d-pad and three buttons. One button activates the basic shot, one toggles the magic field on and off, and the third activates spell cards. These cards act as both special weapons and shields; activating one temporarily upgrades your shot for a certain duration or until you get hit. You don't start the game with any spell cards, nor do you lose or gain them after losing a life; they must be bought at the shops that dot the levels.

The magic field is the most interesting and most technical aspect of the game. Each girl has an animal companion that floats alongside her, following slightly behind the same path that she travels. It shoots a different shot from your character when the shot button is pressed, but also serves a more important role when the magic field is activated. When this occurs, the familiar becomes enveloped in a circular area that can catch and dramatically slow enemy bullets, though the duration of the field is limited and drains magic from your MP bar. Destroying an enemy who's shots you've captured in this way turns the bullets into coins that add to your score and GP, and can be used to purchase spell cards. However, letting an enemy escape the screen causes any slowed bullets to point towards your character and return to full speed.

Bullet hell, interrupted.

Hopefully this intrigues most of you readers, though make no mistake; Trouble Witches can be enjoyed on a lot of levels. I happen to like shooters with deep play mechanics and scoring systems that take time to appreciate and master, but if that all goes over your head, you still have a very fun game on your hands.

And did I mention that Trouble Witches has cuteness in spades? From the character art to the music to the interactions in story mode, you can't help but be immersed in the adorable nature of this game. My favorite character, Sakurako, is a foreign girl who dreams of becoming a witch just like the magical girls on her favorite anime shows. The main character Pril is a witch in training with one of those Japanese green and yellow 'beginner' marks on the end of her wand. I could go on, but they're all about as lovable as a tub of bunnies. Their Japanese voices also are very competently done and don't get repetitive, though the animal companion noises as they constantly toggle the magic field on and off might. While there are also English voices available, they are sadly quite bland and phoned-in, and best switched off immediately.

One of the few other tiny complaints is that the game does not explain itself quite as well as it should. When you go to arcade mode and start a game you are offered to watch a 70 second full tutorial, 30 second brief tutorial, or to go straight to the first level. These options are absent in the 360 mode that most players will likely go to first. I'd highly advise any new players to watch the full tutorial before playing, and it should have been in 360 mode.

Character select.

The nine playable characters all have different statistics as far as their shot strength, movement speed, and MP recovery, though these stats are buried in the How to Play screen. It would be more helpful if these were shown on the character select screen, as the amount of information presented is awfully hard to memorize.

That being said, each of the nine characters plays differently enough to be interesting. Nobody felt obviously underpowered, though some characters would need more practice to understand how best to use them. Each character has a unique opening and interactions with the stage bosses, so playing through the game as everyone is a treat instead of the chore it is in some games with loads of characters.

Similarly, each of the stage-end bosses behave very differently, requiring different tactics to defeat. Each area feels very fresh due both to the boss variety, the dramatic changes in scenery, and the steadily increasing difficulty.

Ultimately, Trouble Witches NEO is a cute game full of depth and appeal, and only a few minor problems prevent this release from being a flawless shooter.

Score: 9.0 - Fantastic. Negligible flaws. Otherwise very, very good; a fine example of excellence in the genre.

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reviewed by Tyler Jones

 

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Tyler Jones
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Filed under... #reviews #Video games #xbox 360 #Xbox Live Marketplace

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