14th Nov2019

‘Ritual: Crown of Horns’ Review (Nintendo Switch)

by Britt Roberts

Daniel Goodchild, an American legend and bounty hunter has been sent by his own government to hunt down and kill a suspected witch in cowboy-era U.S.A. Upon arriving at the witch’s home, he is attacked by a throng of antler-sporting cultists and, despite putting up a brave fight he is killed faster than Steven Seagal at the start of Executive Decision. Luckily, the witch he was hunting turns out to be not a bad sort at all and brings him back from the dead to assist her in her quest, a quest that turns his world around and raises questions that can only be solved with bullets, lots and lots of bullets.


A single player top-down twin-stick shooter with more of a lean toward strategy than some other, similar titles, mainly due to the aiming which requires you to hold down the left trigger before firing with the right (the longer the trigger is held, the more accurate your shot), Ritual: Crown of Horns is a Western with a dark edge and some seriously growly moodiness going on.

As the resurrected Daniel Goodchild, the main gameplay mechanic is an arena-style defence game whereby you protect the witch from approaching hordes as she casts a spell to cleanse certain areas of cultists. Early on, these spells only take a couple of minutes, relatively simple to get through as the cultists hack the barricades around the witch, allowing you to circle them and blast away with your trusty six-shooter. Fast forward a few missions, though and the difficulty really tightens its belt. New enemies are introduced which carry shields – meaning they are impervious to frontal assaults – and large behemoths that make a beeline for Daniel himself, as opposed to the barricades that surround the witch are among those that will prove formidable obstacles in your path. As you proceed, the game throws other challenges at you such as boss levels and other, ‘witchless’ stages in which all enemies hurtle towards Daniel, and usually have environmental hazards that need to be avoided, making the already small areas that make up the level even more dangerous.

As Ritual: Crown of Horns unfolds, Daniel’s circle of associates as well as his spell and weapon arsenal is expanded upon. The witch can bequeath you with abilities such as spinning blades (as in the classic Super Smash TV, a title that this game shares a few gameplay features with, which is a good thing), chains that pull enemies towards you (or the hazards that scatter the environment, *hint-hint*) and others. In the same way other members of your posse, when unlocked, can give you clothing and weaponry to make your job easier.

The story that drives the game forward, whilst not too deep, is surprisingly engaging and told with brevity, unveiled in snippets of text at the start and end of each stage, never winking at the audience and occasionally delivered with a dark, wry humour, I really enjoyed the presentation of it.

Visually, the game has a great gloomy aesthetic in the character portraits and loading screens which is carried across in the game itself, to a more basic standard, although it appears to feature an unlocked frame rate which means that the larger / busier the area, the more variable things become. Although this means that the game doesn’t look the greatest in static screenshots, when playing, due to the speed and tactics required to proceed, you don’t focus too much on the character models themselves as opposed to where you need to head to next to take out the next group of enemies and so this wasn’t too much an issue for me, personally.

Ritual: Crown of Horns is hard, make no mistake. After sailing through the first few missions, the difficulty spikes quite sharply and I found myself getting annihilated early on in the newly unlocked stages. The missions spread out on the overworld map in three directions and quite often it’s clear that you need to tackle some others to beef up your character and items before certain missions can be completed. This high level of challenge may be off-putting to some players and is definitely worth mentioning as there’s no way to alter the difficulty and no multi-player component to get someone to assist you. One life is all you get and your health can drop faster than Charlie Sheen’s trousers at a producer’s house party in the late 90’s, if you’re not careful.

To summarise, Ritual: Crown of Horns is a really challenging and satisfying twin-stick shooter that is played to the background of a great atmosphere and setting, the dark, supernatural western. It’s a bit of a slog sometimes, but the feeling when you complete a level, the final seconds counting down as your health slips away, just about to succumb to the overwhelming horde…and then the witch finishes her spell and a wave of light slaughters everyone onscreen, is always gratifying and more than once I exhaled a genuine sigh of relief when a level completed and I could unclench my jaw. It would also be criminal of me not to mention the gritty soundtrack, a guitar-driven growl-a-thon that calls to mind Ry Cooder’s work on the underrated Bruce Willis film, Last Man Standing.

It is a shame that there’s no multiplayer and yes, the in-game visuals aren’t world-changing but Ritual: Crown of Horns is a nifty little game that is definitely worth the attention of fans of arena-shooters, especially if you like a rough ride. It’s time to cock that shotgun.


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