WitchWay

words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Andrew Gleeson, Henri Rochefort, Niilo Takalainen, and Nathan Antony for PC, originally released in 2017.
WitchWay is a puzzle platformer starring a young witch who has plummeted cartoonishly to the bottom of a deep well. The minimal narrative doesn’t explain how she finds herself there, but she must find a way out. In order to do this, she needs to use her magic to slide and levitate blocks, redirect lasers to activate switches, and work her way ever further up the multi-level well. Along the way, she discovers numerous hidden passageways, mysterious eyes placed in the walls, and a bunch of stranded bunnies in need of rescue.


The witch has a 2x variable jump and is able to shove wooden blocks to the left or right. She doesn’t spend much time manually shoving these boxes, however, as she acquires a wand early into her adventure that allows her to activate purple blocks and move them with magic. Some blocks can only be moved to the left or right, but there are many that can hover in the air and move in any direction, and some that can redirect lasers. Box shifting is the game’s primary mechanic and is used to solve most puzzles.


The witch can fire an orb from her wand in four directions, and it has a sizeable range. The orb returns to the witch when it hits a solid object or reaches the extent of its range. In later areas, bubbles appear that allow the witch to fire an orb into them and then press in one of eight directions to unleash it. This allows her to reach boxes positioned on diagonals, as well as extending her range to reach distant boxes or to hit boxes around corners. There are many situations where the player must send the orb between a series of bubbles in order to solve a puzzle, and since the camera follows the orb, it can also be used to scope out the surrounding area.


Once the orb has been released, the witch is unable to move until it returns to her, and many spatial puzzles involve lining up blocks to use as platforms. More importantly, the witch can ride on top of any blocks that she is controlling, allowing to scoot left and right on sliding blocks, or fly through the air on hovering ones.


Environments are blocky, with each tile equaling the size of a block, making it easy to determine which areas are traversable. Movement is limited by purple outlines that prevent boxes from moving through but allow the witch to pass. Conversely, there are some tiles that block the witch’s movement while allowing boxes to pass. There are also several 1-way platforms that can only be passed from one direction, setting up some puzzle solutions and occasionally locking the player in an area until he determines how to move forward.


In the earliest puzzles, the witch simply needs to create platforms that allow her to continue her ascent. Sliding blocks can be moved to the left and right, and pressing the JUMP button allows them to hop as well, letting the player stack boxes on top of one another. Later, the player must use hovering boxes to activate switches – which are sometimes placed on walls and ceilings – while also leaving a path open so that he can advance to the next area.


Later puzzles involve redirecting lasers, and these puzzles can get fairly complex, as they often encompass entire rooms. Lasers emerge from emitters on the wall and may be directed to receivers in order to open passages. They can also be used to burn through spider webs that block the witch’s path.


Hovering laser blocks can be moved around the room and placed in front of emitters to capture and redirect the lasers in one of four directions. The challenge comes not only from activating all of the necessary switches but also in protecting the witch from deadly laser blasts as she makes her way through the room.


It is possible to mess up a puzzle and place yourself in an unwinnable situation, so the game offers a RETRY button that returns the room to its original state. It’s notable that getting killed does not reset the room as is typical of the genre. Instead, players respawn at a nearby safe area with their last action undone, preventing progress from being lost upon death and reducing frustration in lengthier puzzles.


Unlike most puzzle platformers, the game world is open and occasionally requires players to return to previous areas. Completed rooms remain in a solved state upon return, allowing players to move quickly without having to re-solve previous puzzles (although they may still need to move some blocks around). This supports the game’s optional objectives of locating bunnies, activating eyes, and discovering hidden artifacts.


Of these optional objectives, bunnies are the easiest to find, as each room containing a bunny is signposted at its entrance, and bunnies usually appear somewhere that the player must pass during the regular course of play. The challenge comes from actually reaching the bunnies as they’re often placed just out of the player’s reach and usually require some advanced techniques to open the way to them. Sometimes this means finding a nearby false wall with a switch behind it, but often, the player must find alternate uses for the tools in the room that go beyond simply making progress. There are eight bunnies to be found, and appropriately, they hop into the witch’s hat when discovered.


Tucked all around the environment – and often inconspicuous against the similarly-colored backgrounds – are closed eyes that open when the witch touches them (they are not activated by moving blocks over them). It's rare to activate an eye by accident through the normal course of play, as they require the player to take additional actions beyond merely solving the puzzles in the room, sometimes searching out hidden areas or moving off the beaten path. There are 26 eyes in all.


Lastly, there are three artifacts to be uncovered, and these represent some of the toughest challenges in the game. First off, the player must discover the three color-coded keys that lead to three similarly color-coded locked doors spread throughout the well. Once inside, the player must complete a difficult set of challenges that require a thorough understanding of the gameplay mechanics. Tracking down these artifacts – and the aforementioned bonus items – results in changes on the title screen to reflect your accomplishments.


The main path through the game is short, with much of the challenge coming from replaying previous areas to discover all of the hidden objects. While the game world is open, the player does not have access to a map. Instead, some doorways have maps of the immediate area carved nearby, and there is a dedicated map room. The lack of a map in the menu makes the well more difficult to navigate, especially since moving from room to room is done by passing through doors that lead to higher and lower areas rather than simply allowing the player to walk from one room to the next. This makes it difficult for the player to develop a connection to the world spatially, as is typical of other open world games, which in turn makes backtracking less clear.


That said, the main path to the ending is fairly straightforward, and there is a central shaft connecting all levels of the well. As the player ascends, he is able to press a switches that call the bucket, and then move up or down as far as he likes, although he cannot move above his highest discovered point.



2D CRED
WitchWay was developed by designer and artist Andrew Gleeson, who also did art for Titan Souls; designer and programmer Henri Rochefort; and sound designer Niilo Takalainen, who also did sound design for Environmental Station Alpha, Bleed 2, Gunkatana, and Tormentor X Punisher; with music composed by Nathan Antony.

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