Originally developed for iOS and Android devices, Dark Witch Music Episode: Rudymical is a spin-off from The Legend of Dark Witch series that was playable on Nintendo 3DS. In a complete detour from the two previous titles – The Legend of Dark Witch and The Legend of Dark Witch - Episode 2: The Price of Desire – this new entry to the series ditches its former 2D-side-scrolling-platforming-shooter ways and instead adopts a rhythm action approach.
Despite being a different genre, Rudymical still has many similarities to the previous games. This becomes immediately apparent when its intro talks about the power of Syega Crystals, how in the wrong hands they can cause suffering and war, and that a hero must step forward and right all of the wrongs and save everyone and *insert cliché video game plot here*… (If you’ve played the originals, you’ll be well aware of the unnecessary opening drama that is never really mentioned ever again). Familiar names also return, with Zizou and Sola available as playable characters straight away.
The gameplay takes the basic ideas of rhythm action and tries to do something a little different to the norm. Each stage contains a boss that sends bullets, or ‘Boing-Boings’, hurtling towards you. Your job is to press the button which corresponds to the colour of the Boing-Boing (red, blue or green) as it arrives. If you hit it you’ll do damage to your opponent – the game indicates a “perfect, great, or good” when you make contact indicating your precision and timing – whereas missing it entirely will cause you damage instead. Both you and your opponent have health bars across the top of the screen, not too dissimilar from traditional fighting games such as Street Fighter, and to win you simply have to lower their health to zero before the same happens to you.
At first eight stages are available to play, each with their own unique song and boss to defeat. Upon completion of a stage you will be awarded a ranking based on your performance – if you achieve an ‘A’ or higher you will be given a Syega Crystal, which apart from fuelling the story can be used to unlock more playable characters. After completing these initial eight stages four more are unlocked, with a final boss stage available after those. These 13 stages can be played across four different difficulty tiers – Easy, Normal, Hard or Lunatic, resulting in 52 different song-maps overall.
In theory this should be a game with great promise, but in reality it feels a little lacklustre. Each stage will take approximately two, possibly three minutes on Easy difficulty, which means that you will see the credits screen in just over half an hour. The harder difficulty options, as well as collecting every last Syega Crystal, should be enough to make you want to go back and keep playing but that just isn’t the case.
The music doesn’t stick in your head or stand out whilst playing, the notes that you hit don’t always feel like they are in the best place to compliment the rhythm of the song – and at times don’t seem to fit at all - and the harder difficulties increase the complexity in the wrong way. Rhythm action games tend to be strongest on their hardest settings – mostly because every little flourish of the music is represented by an action for you to perform – but in this case notes are added all over the place, creating a complete mess on screen that is incredibly hard to keep a track of; the song you’re playing along to gets lost. At times, Lunatic mode feels more like Whack-A-Mole on steroids than a rhythm action game.
There are two different modes available for two players should you wish to play with a friend – VS and Co-op. Both of these modes are splitscreen affairs where both players play one of the 13 available stages at the same time. In VS mode you are competing to achieve the highest score, with each individual playable character having a unique attack of their own to be unleashed on your friend when you see fit. Zizou for example can black-out a section of the opponent’s screen, whereas Sola can send a swarm of bees, temporarily paralysing the opposing player. These attacks do add a nice change to things, especially as you unlock new characters and their abilities, but ultimately it feels exactly the same as the solo player adventure. Co-op is even more similar, with both players playing one of the 13 stages at the same time and a combined score being given at the end.
Dark Witch Music Episode: Rudymical is a great idea on paper; the combat-based rhythm action is a nice change to the norm of the genre but is never pulled off to its full potential. There are fleeting, promising moments – the game’s art is as attractive as the series has always been and some sections of music flow along with your button presses in a very tight, satisfying way, but ultimately when judged against other rhythm action games it falls short.
We’re not saying this is a bad game, it’s just rather underwhelming, and with other stronger rhythm action games already available on Nintendo Switch - such as VOEZ - this feels like a game that might appeal more to the fans of the series rather than the genre.