There’s some kind of witchcraft going on with Witcheye, and we’re not just talking about the title character. Here’s a 2D platformer that doesn’t involve any jumping whatsoever. Spooky.
At the outset of the game, you take control of a witch who turns herself into a free-flying eyeball – because witches – in order to chase down a sticky-fingered knight. With neither limbs nor gravity to worry about, you’re suddenly able to traverse these tight tunnel-like levels with an easy flick of the Joy-Con stick or touchscreen. Set off in a direction and left to her own devices, our witch will behave rather like a rubber ball, bouncing off surfaces and – if you’re not careful – into spiky traps. Thankfully, pressing any main Joy-Con button or tapping the screen will stop you dead in your tracks.
Witcheye’s controls totter tantalisingly between laser-like precision and barely restrained chaos, depending on what you’re trying to accomplish. This is complicated by underwater sections that constantly push your witchy eyeball towards the surface with a well-observed buoyancy effect, windy sections that slow your forward momentum, and webs that incapacitate you for a few excruciating sections. It all gives the game a distinctive flavour that we’re rather fond of, though there can be frustrations when it comes to some of the enemy encounters. This is where Witcheye’s true challenge lies.
Unlike most platformers, defeating enemies in Witcheye is a simple case of colliding with them. Before long, however, baddies will appear that require you to approach them from a certain angle, or to attack them at a certain vulnerable moment. Some will actively hurt you with projectiles or spiky surfaces, or will leap at you with unpredictable hops. If you haven’t quite tamed those quirky controls, you’ll find that a single stooge can wipe out half your limited heart supply in short order.
You don’t have to tackle every enemy, though. If you choose to bypass them, it’s fairly simple to blast through Witcheye’s bite-size levels in no time at all, with only the odd boss or locked-room encounter to slow you up. If you’re a true completionism, however, you’ll need to stop and engage the grunts, as they often give up one of the handful of collectable gems that are strewn through each stage.
Others might be stashed in breakable boxes or hidden just off-screen in suspicious areas. Uncovering these gems is often only half the battle, as you then need to nip back in and collect them before they disappear off-screen. Bosses, too, can provide a stiff challenge. There’s never a mystery in terms of what you need to do in order to defeat them, as it’s a familiar case of avoiding their looping attack patterns and pinging into their glowing weak spot(s). But doing this in a game where your hard-won platforming skills prove virtually useless takes some getting used to.
Witcheye’s unorthodox controls betray its mobile heritage. The game was built with touchscreen control in mind, and it shows. It plays best in handheld, where moving and stopping are layered on top of one another. Using analogue sticks to move might feel more satisfying to a die-hard console gamer, but we found it to be less precise and instinctive. The game’s compact, somewhat simplistic levels also speak to a game that was intended for the brief staccato rhythms of mobile play.
While Witcheye is a reasonably snug fit in handheld mode, it doesn’t play quite as well here as it does on mobile platforms. The Switch is a less wieldy touchscreen device than most modern phones and tablets, after all. Even cheap Android tablets and Ancient iPads will give you a larger and sharper picture, not to mention being easier to hold one-handed.
Still, Witcheye fundamentally works as intended in handheld mode. We can’t quite say the same when the game is played in docked mode. While they work just fine, the physical controls add to a (quite literal) sense of distance from the experience. And when you’re sat back on your couch playing Witcheye, you realise what a slender, basic platformer it is. Beyond those collectable gems and a desire to see what subtle twist on the movement system is around the corner, there really isn’t much meat to the game.
What comes across as a clean, appealing 16-bit art style in handheld mode looks ever so slightly anaemic on a 50-inch TV. Perhaps it’s partly because there are just so many games on the eShop that lean on a SNES aesthetic (not to mention the ready availability of the Nintendo Switch Online SNES library itself), but Witcheye’s visuals just don’t quite pop on your TV like they do on your phone.
While it never quite feels like a native Switch experience, Witcheye is a highly entertaining spin on the old 16-bit platformer. If you love the aesthetic of those SNES-era jump-a-thons, but grow weary of the same old head-bouncing mechanics, Witcheye will be a more than worthy diversion. Just be sure to reserve it for those out-and-about occasions, where it’s in its element.
Witcheye is a quirky platformer with an innovative movement system, and it’s well worth playing if you’re after a fresh, bite-size handheld-focused experience. Removed from its mobile context, however, it doesn’t quite have the necessary tactile appeal to overcome the game’s relative lack of depth. Fun as it is, this is one mobile port that doesn’t feel perfectly at home on Switch.