Review – The Witch’s House MV (Switch)

Bringing a Japanese indie game to the masses, particularly one that was already available freely, is a difficult thing. On the one hand, devs one hundred percent deserve to have their hard work acknowledged, and to try and earn something from their product, particularly if people love it. On the other, it can be a tough pill to swallow to watch something go from “fan supported and free everywhere” to “locked behind a paid platform.” You can always hope the kindness of strangers will be enough to make the transition worthwhile, but it’s far more likely that incentivization will be the key to success. Thankfully, DanGen Entertainment took the necessary steps to help take cult classic The Witch’s House out of the freeware circle and put it into a solid category of “pick up this game.”

Many will know the name The Witch’s House from the countless number of streamers who’ve taken part in the unique horror experience therein. A labor of love from indie developer Fummy, you play a lost blonde girl by the name of Viola who is trapped in the forest and wants to get home. With no other way to go, Viola wanders into the titular Witch’s House, which immediately turns out to be a massive mistake. Beset by traps, riddles and general murderous affairs, Viola needs to survive all the way to the top floor to finally confront the witch…at least in theory. For many, simply walking into the house will result in your immediate death and getting kicked back to the start menu.

The snake wants to give me kisses! Awwwwait, dammit.

This is where the flavor of The Witch’s House starts to develop, and it’s really up to the player to figure out if they’re in for this ride or not. Designed in RPG Maker, Fummy has the game set up to trigger a number of events from seemingly arbitrary reasons. Some of the events are just little moments designed to unsettle or spook you, like lights turning off, things falling over or mysterious signs appearing. There’s a couple of moments that genuinely gave me the creeps because of how subtly it occurred.

On the other hand, some of these triggers are you instantly dying, which can be a massive bummer if you haven’t saved via black cat recently. Anything and everything will kill you, from picking up items to not picking up items, talking to things or not talking to them, or simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. A big part of this game is trial and error, ultimately culminating into a streamlined playthrough that can honestly be banged out in under an hour.

Oh cool, the game tailors itself to the player’s thoughts.

As a core game, The Witch’s House is something to behold, and I do encourage everyone to take a look. Thanks to the limited ways in which the game was designed, I think that it’s a brilliant take on storytelling and putting scares into something relatively low fidelity. Having pixel art to tell the tale of this large, labyrinthian home is an apt medium, as you would either be truly horrified or perhaps just dissatisfied with something of this caliber run through, say, Unity or Unreal. Being able to either focus on the gameplay or slowly unfurl the story through optional diary dialogues is a treat, though the former is the way to go if you truly way to survive.

There are several traps and puzzles that are timed and you need to act quickly, not think about the world in which you exist. I was enthralled by the number of ways that you can be killed without any real recourse, and it was actually fun on the easy difficulty, since it enables you to auto respawn and try something again.

There were a few puzzles, however, that were positively infuriating. The skull puzzle in particular was just an absolute mess to figure out, even reading the clues and then re-reading it to make sure I understood. This might be a translation issue, but it simply did not convey well into comprehension, so I spent an ungodly amount of time pivoting skulls and trying multiple combinations till I finally lucked into the right one. Thankfully, the puzzle stays the same throughout, so once I got it I was able to quickly do it again after I got insta-killed by the next trap that came my way. Cheap kills are sometimes fun, but, again, being kicked back to the main menu (on normal difficulty) was deeply upsetting, particularly if I had forgotten to talk to the cat recently.

But how could I not, with such engrossing dialogue?

The soundscape of the game is very minimalist, and I think that works exceptionally well for The Witch’s House. You can enjoy the stillness and suspense that goes throughout, with a few discordant notes floating to help craft the atmosphere. When you end up in a chase trap and something is trying to murder you, the sudden injection of frantic, reversed notes raises your hackles to the roof and stresses you out something fierce. The melancholy music that accompanies one of the endings (yes, multiple endings!) is appropriate, and feels almost mocking once you unlock the additional ending. It’s certainly not a soundtrack I would gravitate towards on its own, but it suits the game exceedingly well.

The bizarre sounds after wandering into this “secret” room are haunting.

It took me far too long to realize the full name, The Witch’s House MV, is a reference to how this game has been recreated in RPG Maker MV, and this is where people will need to vote with their wallets and their minds. On the one hand, the updated graphics do make a lot of aspects of the game pop more prominently, particularly the garden and the four rooms of sound.

It’s good to see the game get a proper upscale treatment, but it comes at a cost. Whereas the original was dark, this MV remake is sometimes TOO dark, resulting in me squinting exceptionally hard at the screen to figure out what I’m doing. This is easier to handle on the big screen, but if you’re playing it on the Nintendo Switch on the go, even the best lighting conditions can’t compensate for the saturated darkness that inhabits most of the rooms. Nevermind the pitch black room maze: it was an incredible pain in the ass to figure out where I was going even before the lights went out.

It’s hard to see, but I’m less than a second away from death by teddy bear.

The MV remake, though, also brings a brand new difficulty level which feels like a brand new game. Fummy has crafted an entirely new approach to The Witch’s House with the hard mode, where items are in a different place, traps react differently and things are almost totally remixed. I spent way too long trying to find the machete at the beginning, an item that you literally can’t begin the game without.

Even though it’s labeled as “hard,” I would qualify this as a “New Game Plus” of sorts, since it’s not even available until after you finish the game on Normal. It brings new story elements as well, and gives you a much clearer (and bloodier) view of what transpires between Viola, Ellen and other facets of the game. For fans, this is a deeply engrossing new approach to the game and basically lets you learn everything all over again.

Man, the Mirror of Erised really gets me, you know?

Personally, I think The Witch’s House MV is a treasure, and I’m glad it exists now across multiple platforms. Credence to Japanese indie devs’ hard work is still needed in greater quantities, and this is a solid step forward. I sincerely hope that we also get a possible physical edition, because I can see collectors wanting to add this to their shelves. While it can be short, this is a title that can and should be experienced at least once, which is why I’m glad the original is still widely available for free. If you just want to see what the fuss is about, it’s simple enough to find it online. However, if you find yourself enjoying the punishing, gruesome tale being told here, I encourage you to support Fummy’s work and pick up The Witch’s House MV as a way of saying thank you, and to see a brand new facet for this sincerely horrifying game.

Graphics: 5.0

Even with the updated MV edition, the limitations of the pixel sprites and the muddy lighting can sometimes turn eerie into frustrating.

Gameplay: 8.0

The variety of puzzles and traps juxtaposed with the gradual expansion of the house leads to great pacing, and the adventure format is the best way to tell this particular tale.

Sound: 6.0

Light on music, heavy on disturbance, it works for what the game wants it to be, but ultimately is somewhere between unsettling and repetitive.

Fun Factor: 8.0

It was a real treat to play this myself, and the additional hard mode gave me an honest, first time take on the sheer nonsense of my murders.

Final Verdict: 7.0

The Witch’s House MV is available now on PC and Switch.

Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.

A copy of The Witch’s House MV was provided by the publisher.