How can a videogame with a name like Bullet Witch not be the single greatest title ever made? With such a funky, vivid and self explanatory title, surely it could only ever be topped by Tom Clancy's Nuclear Brothel, Dancefloor Dinosaurs or maybe Carol Vorderman's Lottery Payout Scam Turbo?
It's not the best game ever, of course, but this third-person blend of destructive spells and shooting has turned out to be more solid and polished than any of the game's preview footage from the past 12 months could begin to tentatively suggest.
The last time we met Japanese developer Cavia was in Beat Down: Fists of Vengeance on Xbox. Remember that? No? Good. It's for the best. Perhaps you've just buried it deep in your psyche to save your sanity. Anyway, since then, they've seemingly straightened themselves out a bit, on a relatively new next gen console, no less. Bullet Witch is very pretty in parts, a shooter that's backed up by some enormously powerful magical spells, courtesy of the game's witchy star, Alicia.
She's more vamp than hag, with the kind of hair you'd happily marry, black lace sprouting out of every leather-clad curve and (seriously) one of the best-modelled tummies you'll seen in a game...
Her weapon isn't eye of newt, but the Gun Rod, an enormous firearm that's almost as tall as she is, and can be cycled through four different forms: machine gun, shotgun, cannon and, by no means least, minigun.
Cavia's past games have been interesting to say the least, but often inaccessible. Bullet Witch tries its best not to fall foul of that trend, with some reliable controls that pinch plenty from Halo, and a health/magic system that bypasses the need for you to faff about with medikits or ammo pickups. Alicia's health meter recharges with time, but the magic bar's more complicated - it also refills over time, but using spells lowers the bar's maximum capacity, which is restored by killing enemies. Magic also takes care of all your bullets, using up a little dab to provide you with a fresh clip. The spells themselves (there are nine in total) are great, ranging from the ultra destructive to the ultra bloody- useful. The bigger ones are elemental - Tornado, Thunder, Meteor Storm - and soak up your entire supply of hocus pocus; some can only be used at certain points, but are capable of bringing entire blinkin' skyscrapers crashing down in spectacular manner. Others you'll be using all the time, but it's a great way to add a bit of sparkle to the otherwise fairly plain and broadly repetitive run-and-gun action.
Yet for all the alakazam and freaky enemies (mostly zombie-demon-soldiers, and some horrific eyeball-headed freaks that pop up later in the game), the shooting itself tires more quickly than a pensioner on a treadmill. Checkpoints are savagely placed, which, combined with how suddenly you can snuff it, only helps to ram home the dullness of the blasting. There are only six stages, but they're huge, and it's way too easy to get lost within them. Some of them, such as the second level's moonlit city, are borderline stunning, only fouled by the texture flicker that crops up here and there. Other stages are played for atmosphere more than grandeur - like a trip into a gloomy, claustrophobic sewer, or a sinister foggy forest - but the resulting effect is more likely to spit you out than suck you in, since the basic action is so lacking in pizzazz. There are very few boss fights too, and while they're imaginative and grand to look at, they're universally dim to take part in.