I love top-down shooters, and I cut my teeth on quite a few over the years. There just aren’t that many top-down shooters anymore. Unlike isometric games, top-down games are viewed directly above your avatar. Top-down shooters often include loads of enemies, and often lots of projectiles, to make a game that’s all about fast reaction time and avoiding damage.
Ritual: Crown of Horns bills itself as a “witch defense game” as well as a top-down shooter. And while it certainly has the “defense” element, it’s all about avoiding damage and dispatching enemies as quickly as possible. Often you’ll be protecting someone in the middle of the map so they can complete their ritual before the demonic forces overtake them. This is all done on a stylized, pretty darn cool old west style backdrop.
It’s the year “18xx” and you play a badass lawman named Goodchilde. He’s the “best of the best” type, and never knew defeat until he was sent to stop a witch. After getting killed in an ambush of horned beast-men, the witch gives Goodchilde a second life, and a mission to travel across the United States, exorcising the demons he finds along the way. It’s an appropriate premise for a game that is so drenched in bloody action, so it’s really too bad the gameplay is just utter garbage.
Top down shooters feel like they should be easy to put together–the hard part would be establishing a cool reason to be doing the top-down shooting. The story is a great vehicle for its action, but the action is incredibly lacking.
Most levels are the same, and they go like this: enter a small area, fight demons while trying to survive, and try to stop them from killing the person casting the ritual in the middle of the level. That’s it. Sometimes, that’s enough, but Ritual: Crown of Horns isn’t very fun to play. And if you’ve played one level in Ritual: Crown of Horns¸ you’ve seen the vast majority of what the game has to offer.
Shooting doesn’t feel good. It’s not too slow, but it’s just not fast enough either. The controls feel responsive, but they just don’t feel very accurate. There is an auto aim that helps with this, but it’s sometimes awful with its tendency to snap you to a set of enemies you weren’t intending on fighting. I did get used to it, but if there’s an option to turn off auto-aim, I usually take it.
Another issue with Ritual: Crown of Horns is that the camera is way too close, making everything feel super claustrophobic. You can’t get a good assessment of what’s around you, and enemies are only ever a few steps from hitting you if they’re within your camera view.
The enemy types don’t really help out the game too much, either. Most enemies you fight are horned goat humanoids that walk towards the center of the map (if defending) and will attack the player when opportunity presents itself. The AI is pretty bad, and encounters are usually about how fast you can dispatch foes rather than doing any sort of strategizing.
There are different power-ups you can acquire during levels—standard stuff like faster reload, or greater acquisition of souls. Souls work as a currency for your magic abilities—none of which ever felt very satisfying, or as useful as the firearms.
There are a bunch of different firearms to acquire in Ritual: Crown of Horns. There are the standard old west style weapons—from rifles and revolvers, to crossbows. There are a few surprise weapons, too, but nothing I found really ended up being my go-to weapon. And since reloading is passive, I would scroll to a new weapon while it was reloading the other weapon in the background. This, incidentally, made some power-ups (notably “Insane Reload”) pretty useless.
Ritual: Crown of Horns isn’t all bad. The art and music are on point. I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve heard from the soundtrack, and the art style always gets me excited for gameplay that just never satisfies. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but it’s so stylish and cool that I found myself staring at the loading art and wishing for THAT game. I haven’t felt such a disparity since I was a little kid, browsing NES game box art compared to the game’s actual gameplay. Ritual: Crown of Horns just doesn’t live up to its own style.
It’s rare that I say this, but Ritual: Crown of Horns doesn’t really have any redeeming values beyond its awesome art and soundtrack. Skip the game, buy the soundtrack.
But if you have to try it out, Ritual: Crown of Horns is out of early access today on Steam.
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