Nine Witches: Family Disruption Review: A Modern Point-and-Click Adventure
**Disclaimer: Code provided by Indiesruption; Reviewed on the Xbox Series X**
I used to be a big point and click adventure fan. They were some of the first games I ever played as I was growing up. Games like Pajama Sam, Putt-Putt, and a game in a train station (that I for the life of me cannot find the name of) consumed my life. Once I got a console though, I quickly fell off of them. They have occasionally popped up on consoles in one form or another. The most recent one that I played was Kings Quest that while fun, didn’t carry the same brevity as its ancestors. Now comes along Nine Witches: Family Disruption (from here on out will be referred to as Nine Witches), a new "point and click adventure"-like game made by a small Argentinian indie team that wanted to pay homage to the great point and click adventures of yore. They succeeded. Let’s delve in to why.
Nine Witches has made the rounds of indie conferences and game jams over the past several years, even to win awards like EVA 2019’s finalist for Best Visuals and Best Game. It also went on to be an official selection for Xbox’s Summer Game Fest showcase in 2020. After playing Nine Witches, I find myself agreeing with its accolades. The game is witty, fun, and is not afraid to break the fourth wall regularly. It holds a lot of comedic elements that you’d find with older point and click adventures as well as outlandish solutions to puzzles. Plus, the story feels unique and introduces new gameplay elements occasionally to try to keep the game feeling fresh that don't always work in its favor. Even the art style is reminiscent of the older games. Completely retro-pixel style, the developers found the a great mix to make the game look simply beautiful, but we’ll touch more on that later.
In Nine Witches, you play as a wheelchair bound professor of the occult, Alexi Krakovitz, and his loyal assistant, Akiro Kagasawa, who is ready to do anything the professor asks of him. On a cold and stormy night in 1944, the duo is tasked to go to a small town by the name of Sundäe, Norway, (famous for their delicious three testacled salmon that serves as a bustling tourist trap) to stop the Nazi regime from harnessing the power of a recently unleashed curse. They are thrown on the next plane to Norway to go stop the Nazis and whatever mystical plan they have to take over the world. So begins a four to five hour adventure featuring a varying cast of characters ranging from a dead priest’s ghost to a former bartender who had his bar stolen from him and is forced to clean up after the drunken soldiers. They may not sound interesting, but each character has their own quirks that will make them shine one way or another. Others though, particularly the Nazi troops were written to be villains. There is zero way to say what they were doing is right and that is exactly how they should be written. While the story itself feels shallow, it really is about the characters you meet and regularly interact with along the way to the games end. In other words, it really is about the friends you made along the way. Knowing how they act can help you solve puzzles and get key information regarding next steps.
There is one point in the game though where there is a major tonal shift. You’ll know what I'm talking about when you get there. The gradual build-up to this shift is fun, but once the game devotes itself completely to this new setting, the whole tone and feel change as well and the game loses its charm. At that point, there is nobody around. Everyone has vanished for one reason or another. For context, I tended to rely on the NPCs way more than I probably should have to find ways to progress. While their talking points tended to stay the same until certain story beats or interactions happened, talking to them and trying every option to find what clicked felt like a way to jog my brain into thinking of a correct solution. With nobody around though, I was left with myself. Trying to find the final solutions to beat the game ended up being a lot more tedious than fun which ended up hurting my overall opinion of the game. The final puzzles in any game should be harder than most, but the difficulty ramps up significantly if the main tools used before to get through 80-90% of the game are suddenly taken away, the difficulty ramps up exponentially. This is where I think Nine Witches could've benefitted from having a hint system. Nothing intrusive, but a simple system that gave subtle hints depending on what was left to do. There is nothing missable as far as I’m aware. You have to do everything to reach the end. When you know you’re so close to beating a game when the answers are at their wildest, the overall feel will tend to shift from puzzling to almost infuriating.
The game plays similarly to older point-and-click adventures but translated very well to a controller. When needed, you can quickly switch between Alexi and Akiro by hitting one of the triggers. Each has their own limits that you need to keep in mind. As mentioned above, Alexi is wheelchair bound. Furthermore he cannot move his limbs which makes interacting with the environment nigh impossible for him. Instead, Alexi is able to go into a trance and enter the spirit realm. You are more-or-less a ghost floating around and able to do some espionage work, talk to other ghosts to get hints from them, and see all item that are interactable. This is a nice little mini hint system just to see if you missed anything in the rooms you’re in. It's not the same as what feels needed but it does scratch that itch. There are times where stairs may inhibit Alexi from getting somewhere or you need to interact with an object to continue the game. That’s where Akiro comes into play. Akiro is the brawn to Alexi’s brain and is able to do everything Alexi can't. It’s this understanding of each other’s limits that make this duo very likeable. They take fourth wall jabs at each other regularly but are also quick to help out. I noticed though that you mostly play as Akiro because of how often you interact with objects in the world. There’s also some standout times where the game tries to change throw in a new or different mechanic that feels out of left field, but these instances stick out like a sore thumb.
At certain points the game turns to gunfights to get out of sticky situations. This normally occurs when the duo get found out or when the otherworldly events start to appear regularly. Gunfights in Nine Witches may be the worst addition to this game. Not because they are difficult, but because of the odd limitations and rules they place on the mechanics. For instance, Akiro has a family heirloom pistol on him at all times. Let alone the fact that this gun does very little damage, it also jams up regularly. This is more inconvenient than it is to make these segments feel thrilling. There are other guns laying around (a pistol, a rifle, and an SMG always spawned) and they do way more damage, but they have very limited ammunition. If the starting gun didn’t lock up so often and maybe just did 1 less damage instead to make up the difference then maybe these experiences would be more exciting. When fighting enemies with over 100 health and the only gun available to you after clearing several waves of enemies does 3-4 damage per shot AND only fires 2 shots before locking up it gets pretty tedious. Especially when aiming is crucial since you’re firing guns in a 2.5 D space.
Indiesruption has found their own way to make a retro-pixel art style look modern. It is cute, it's funny, and they found ways to have the artstyle play into some of the jokes. Akiro and Alexi love to poke fun at this just being a retro game. They even hint that some puzzle solutions are solved by looking for a couple of pixels nearby. Normally, fourth wall humor doesn't work. In Nine Witches it did fairly often and that I think is how aware the developers were of just what they were making. When you set the boundaries of your world through the art style, you can make a lot of great jokes and even better set pieces. There's no limitations set by the hardware you're working on. This is a very strong suite of Indiesruption. Every area feels distinct and fleshed out. When there are spectacles they feel modern with the necessary added details to make them feel special. Plus the music is very fitting for the setting and feels like it's ripped out of an 80s game. They picked a setting and a story, and Indiesruption made it work.
Beyond what was discussed above, I never experienced any glitches when playing Nine Witches. This is a well crafted game that just needed a little more refinement to take it to the next level. Other than that, I only wish they did a better job with dividing the chapters. Nine Witches is broken down to nine chapters excluding the prologue. Some are VERY short, others last over an hour. The chapter breaks should feel like nothing more than a good rest stop if you want to step away because they normally end after a big story beat, but that would make more sense if they were more evenly divvied out during the playtime.
Nine Witches: Family Disruption is a fun and quirky point-and-click adventure made for the modern age. Some of the humor may be a little overdone, but it carries many of the same tropes and heart that you’d expect when you think back to their points of reference, 80’s and 90’s games. The solutions to puzzles can be outlandish up to a point of being downright frustrating. Even then, you may either feel like a genius or a complete idiot for not thinking of how to solve the problems presented. It’s a fun first game by Indiesruption that I recommend to those that are in the mood for a numbingly fun experience for a couple of hours.