It doesn't take much convincing to get me to play a cute-'em-up, especially one I don't have to fork over $80 to import. For many, that might be the initial appeal of Trouble Witches Neo: the mere $10.00 price tag and the convenience of getting a localized shoot-'em-up downloaded to the 360 in minutes. You might be wondering if this game is all cutesy style and no substance, but what I found was a game much deeper than expected.
Trouble Witches Neo came into this world as a baby dōjin game in 2007, but after grabbing the attention of larger publishers, the game got its first arcade release in 2009. What we have now is an even more polished version for Xbox Live Arcade; a collaboration between Studio Siesta (the original development team), SNK, and Bouken.
I imagined them pulling in kids off the street and giving them candy to read the script.
Despite "kawaii" this and "desu" that, Trouble Witches first impression didn't exactly sweep me off my feet. I began the game with Story mode, and chose Pril, the witch who seems to be the face of the game. Now, I'm really not one of those voice acting snobs or someone who must have the Japanese voices on, but the voice acting in this game is downright atrocious. I imagined them pulling in kids off the street and giving them candy to read the script, and after noticing the English voice actors aren't listed in the credits, I don't think I'm too far off. It seems all the familiars have some crappy accent, but it's so poorly done it just sounds like someone with Downs syndrome. My favorite part is hearing distortion when the actor is speaking too closely or too loudly into the microphone.
Thankfully, this isn't a plot- or story-intensive game; it's a game about shooting things, dodging bullets, and touching pumpkin girls inappropriately with your magic wand. The game handles two out of three of those things well.
Each of the nine playable characters has a different bullet type, speed, and a familiar with its own unique attack method. There are three intensities to choose from: No Problem, Heart Pounding, and High Anxiety. "No Problem" is a bit misleading, as even the easy intensity presents a challenge, "No Problem Dying" in my case, would have been more appropriate. This is good news for lovers of the genre, and indeed, Trouble Witches Neo delivers a worthy enough challenge for any shmup pro out there. An unlockable Mind Blowing Mode" is available for those who want to bump it up a notch.
What intrigued me most is the new element of strategy presented in the magical cards. These cards are available in the P-Pumpkin girl shop, and grant a powerful attack for a limited time. The shop floats onto the screen twice in each level, but the card stock isn't always the same. Each card holds a different type of attack, so figuring out how to get the most out of each card adds some creativity in boosting your score and dodging particularly hairy spots. Another cool ability is a magical barrier conjured up by your familiar. When enemy bullets enter the barrier, they slow down, making dodging a heck of a lot easier, and if you manage to kill the enemy who shot the bullets, they explode into coins. How nice is that?
One oddity on the scoring is your score doesn't reset with each continue. As someone who seems to be continuing every other minute, my first reaction to this was, "Awesome!" But I definitely see the problem this presents to competitive players. What I have noticed, however, is the players beating the game with one credit still hold the top spots on the leaderboards anyway, and it doesn't look like anyone credit-feeding is able to get close to big numbers. You'll be able to tell how many credits a person has used by the last number in his score (it starts out at zero).
With six stages, two different challenge modes, multiplayer, and an original arcade mode, the 800 points spent on Trouble Witches Neo gets you a lot of play time. There is also a normal single-player mode you can opt for instead of Story mode (if you'd like to avoid the bulk of the voices). Overall, a nice addition to XBLA's shoot-'em-up library.