Bayonetta. Twinrova. Gruntilda Winkybunion. There have been some truly terrific witches on Nintendo consoles over the years. Whether friend or foe, ally or adversary, these spell casting sorceresses have entertained, antagonised and tormented audiences for decades.
In addition, the notion of video game phenomena has been thrown around more and more since the rise in popularity of social media, digital distribution and smart devices. For every FarmVille there's a Minecraft. For every Angry Birds there's a World of Warcraft and so on.
Imagine the giddy excitement when a game was announced to be coming to the Nintendo Switch that combined the elements of an intriguing, mystical protagonist with the gameplay of an addictive pop culture sensation. An enchanting tale of righteousness over evil in a beautiful world, filled with fun and magic.
Misleading and slightly facetious hyperbole aside, Maria The Witch is a port of a 2016 mobile game (also released on Xbox One this year) that comes from Italian developer Nap Games. The player (tries to) control Maria, a young and enthusiastic trainee working for the post service. She is also a witch that is having a bit of trouble controlling her preferred method of transport - a devilishly temperamental broomstick. Unfortunately, Chaos is strewn across the (as far as we are aware, unnamed) kingdom thanks to a dastardly duo named Zaki & Mia - two wicked and savage thieves who have stolen and scattered precious mail across the worlds. Only by tracking down the anime legend lookalike Zaki and his hovering rodent friend will Maria restore peace and happiness to the kingdom and its recipients alike.
The overall presentation of the game is at least pleasant. The instantly forgettable looping soundtrack and varied yelps of the failing heroine notwithstanding, Maria the Witch is a deceptively passable game in terms of its visuals, at least initially. A brief yet bold pair of storyboard panels set the tone, with a range of soft pastel colours and whimsical characters to make up a Studio Ghibli vibe. Then, it's straight down to that mail retrieving business. A simple and consise controls tutorial screen is presented - press Y for left, A for right; then the nature of the game hits home. It's a clone of the aforementioned 'phenomenon' - 2013's Flappy Bird, and brings little else along for the ride.
Instead of tapping the touch screen to maintain altitude in a linear fashion (in fact, there are no touch inputs at all, but we'll get to that), pressing Y or A will make a meter in the top right hand corner of the screen empty and fill. This will give Maria and her trusty broomstick boost and travel in more of an arc shape. Holding the button down will do a loop de loop. Despite the game's narrative attempting to justify the haphazard movement of said broom, playing the game is frustration exemplified; the sporadic sensitivity and inconsistencies in the physics are sure to annoy.
If the monotony of trying to keep a steady line doesn't get you, the bland level design - with a just a few moving obstacles and enemies - will do just that. Misinterpreting challenge and ending up being just plain irritating, bumping into anything will result in a retry. Clouds electrocute, floating black beasties vaporise and traveling through portals straight into autorunning lava sections will halt your progress again and again.
When you crash - and you will, a lot - you will be reminded every single time of the controls, in a level of condescension that will jeopardise the wellbeing of your cherished hybrid system. As an incentive, or maybe as a reward for your perseverance, there are coins to collect in each level which, when you land on a safe strip of ground, can be exchanged for a checkpoint.
The main objective is retrieving and delivering mail, and there are up to three stars in each level across the four worlds; these are needed in order to unlock later areas, as well as play random slot games where you can gain the ability to keep items after crashing, affect enemies or get more coins.
When navigating the menus and world map, you will be required to move the (very slow) hand curser to the action you desire using the right analogue stick; despite the fact that the interface still has 'tap to do X action' prompts, the Switch version has no touch interface at all. Equally curiously, the R and ZR triggers - instead of face buttons - are used to retry or restart a level.
There are more examples, but this is generally an awkward experience from to finish. An admittedly reasonable looking if not memorable mobile title nosedives its way onto console, with no optimisation, consideration or attention to detail. As mentioned, the backgrounds (especially when the switch is docked) are rather nice, until you see the thin dark lines that expose the cut and paste nature of the scenery.
Cute visuals can't prevent Maria the Witch from being anything other than an incredibly lazy port of an already mediocre and generic mobile clone. A derivative, boring and regularly frustrating experience that has had no care applied in bringing it to Nintendo Switch. The laborious gameplay and obtuse controls, combined with bland, uninspired level design and by-the-numbers progression, reduce it to being one of the most disposable titles on the system. Don't let the admittedly pleasant art style fool you - Maria the Witch really isn't worth taking for a spin.