ITTA is the kind of game that will make you scream with frustration as much as it’ll make you’ll whoop with joy. One of those interactive experiences that gets your adrenaline pumping like a shot of epinephrine to the heart, while simultaneously putting your Nintendo Switch at risk of being smashed to smithereens. That, of course, is the very essence of the ‘bullet hell’ genre, and ITTA knows it all too well. Lulling you into a false sense of calm as you explore the beautiful, combat-free open areas and hidden chambers of its world before plunging you into a boss fight where every pixel seemingly means to do you grievous bodily harm.
Twin-stick shooters tend to squeeze your heart with stress, but ITTA prefers to get your ticker beating with combat one moment while tugging at your heartstrings the next. It’s a game about grief, and the prices we’re willing to pay in order to endure and soldier on. It’s not your usual fare in this genre, but the team behind this genre-fusing adventure clearly want to tell a story with real emotional resonance. It’s an unusual choice, but one that helps ground the intense battles that tie the game’s narrative together.
There’s a real sense of melancholia running throughout ITTA’s story and world, a place where a young child awakens to find their whole family has been massacred. With the help of a newly summoned astral guardian – and a freshly smelted ‘spirit revolver’ – the titular young hero must explore a strange realm of dilapidated ruins, unusual NPCs and monsters that spray bullets, bombs and homing missiles like it’s seemingly going out of fashion. The further you push through its nonlinear overworld, unlocking new boss chambers as you go, you unearth more half-glimpses of the realm in which you now reside.
Despite being a bullet-hell twin-stick shooter, ITTA is surprisingly light on combat. Its battles are retained exclusively to 18 separate boss fights, but that lack of intermittent bloodletting doesn’t lessen its experience. There’s a simple joy to exploring new areas, meeting new NPCs of all shapes and sizes, hearing their stories only to discover another character connected to them further into the game. There are a few environmental puzzles, but since most areas only consist of a dozen or so chambers, it’s easy to backtrack to smithy new weapons, etc.
That boss rush approach evokes the brilliant Titan Souls, although ITTA’s combat offers a little more creativity thanks to the weapons you gradually acquire. Not every NPC you meet speaks in riddles or half-truths. Some can provide maps to the current area you’re exploring, while others can turn physical weapons you’ve found and transform them into spiritual versions. These boomsticks work just as well, only now they can do damage to the spiritual monsters you’ll encounter. Some work better against certain bosses, but these weapons actually suit certain playstyles.
You can dodge at will, and there’s no need to reload any of your guns, so do you get up close with the slower rate but higher damage output? Or do you keep to the simplicity and higher fire rate of your classic revolver? It’s the neat and simple meta at the heart of ITTA. Where exploration pays dividends when you eventually take on each boss, with more firepower at your disposal – and those bosses never disappoint. From the very first encounter to the final showdown, these 18 monolithic titans will challenge your timing and your aim under pressure. Each one gets more sporadic and frantic as you wear down their health, and while they thankfully don’t fill the screen like many bullet hell big bads, their attack patterns will push your reactions to their limits.
If those bosses prove too challenging, there’s the option to turn on modifiers that make combat significantly easier, including double damage output and invincibility. Genre purists will likely sneer at such niceties but those looking for a more forgiving opportunity to try a bullet hell shooter ITTA has all the hand holding you might need. If there’s one area ITTA does fail to deliver on, it’s its soundtrack. The muted colour palette and intricate boss designs might leap off the screen, but its accompanying music really falls flat with boring and repetitive scores.
Bullet-hell games aren’t often known for melancholic narratives and exploration at a sedate-pace, but ITTA isn’t your usual bullet-hell experience. This is a top-down adventure that will appeal to fans of Hyper Light Drifter: Special Edition, Titan Souls and the like, one full of confident storytelling and very challenging bullet hell bosses. While its difficulty curve can wildly fluctuate, making it less than palatable to genre newbies, those with a taste for danger who want a new bullet-hell extravaganza might just find their new obsession.