It’s well past midnight. My palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms heavy. Bullets rain all around me as I roll and fire back, a howling skull screaming explosions at me. It’s been hours, days, perhaps months since I’ve last known peace, but as the final bullet pierces my foe and I win the battle I practically collapse in relief. It’s not a nightmare, but the bullet-hell boss rush game ITTA, recently released on Nintendo Switch (reviewed here) and Steam.
You play as Itta, a recently deceased young girl who lands in some strange, otherworldly place following the deaths of herself and her whole family. Armed with only her father’s pistol, Itta sets out to defeat the spirits blocking her way and return home. Her only friends are the spirit of her cat and a terrifying demon-like beast that can aid Itta in battle. Her only enemies are eighteen bosses, whom she can fight with a wide variety of unlockable guns.
There’s no mooks in the explorable overworld, no training, and barely a tutorial. ITTA drops you into things and tells you to go figure it out, and luckily it works because gameplay really is quite simple. Shoot at bosses, dodge when they shoot back. It’s the magic of twin-stick shooters and bullet-hell games. ITTA ups the ante with the difficulty, of course, really drowning you in bullets to dodge. The first two bosses alone took me a dozen or so attempts before I managed to crack them, and I’ll give ITTA some credit for the pure satisfaction I got once I finally did it. Those first two made me snap and put on invincibility, but as I unlocked better weapons, health upgrades, and more powers for my demonic assistant, I found the battles easier and only switched it on again once or twice. You can switch on a damage multiplier too, if you need to. They’re important options to have, ensuring less skilled players can still experience the story. Eventually I got into the groove of things and I actually found ITTA almost dancelike. Itta flutters and rolls (rolling through attacks avoids their damage) around bullets, fires off a few shots in between animations, and then dances away again. It’s a surprisingly immersive gameplay, and the music helps to draw you in.
I did have one big problem with ITTA — it’s short. I spent maybe five hours on it total before I finished the story. I’ll concede that I was playing without doing as much exploring as the game offers, but by the time I finished I had collected most of the health and demon upgrades and had most of the weapons as well. A challenge mode of some kind might have helped lengthen things. The Switch port does suffer from a few issues, most prominently with the controls. I found aiming was generally over-sensitive and twitchy, and switching between weapons is done with one set of shoulder buttons while the other set is used for firing and dodging, so you can only really do one at a time. Switching weapons was surprisingly difficult in the heat of battle, and there’s the odd FPS drop in handheld mode in the later bosses. I only encountered a single crash, but it was right before the final boss and shattered my immersion into a million pieces.
ITTA does deserve praise in other aspects. The overworld, which you can explore between bosses, is intricately detailed to the point of obsession, and the pixel animation is as satisfying as can be. The guns, bullets, various projectiles and explosions look and sound great. The Switch version uses HD Rumble (Sorry, Switch Lite owners, no rumble for you!) cleverly in a way that many PC developers might have just ignored or forgotten about. As ancient doors grind open, you feel that grind. Gunshots rattle your hands. It’s a nice, easily forgotten touch, although you might want to tone the rumble down in settings because it’s enough to be distracting at the wrong time. The story, a rather solemn metaphor for the writer’s time in a psychiatric facility, is barebones and encourages you to interpret as you will. I’ll knock a few points off for that same stripped down nature though — often as not, I was confused and unsure of what was going on. Itta is also an intriguing character, for her reluctance and disgust at the grim task she’s taken upon herself. There’s a strong Shadow of the Colossus energy to ITTA, as well as touches of Dark Souls and games like it, albeit more friendly and a little lighter.
You can subscribe to Jump Chat Roll on your favourite podcast players including:
Let us know in the comments if you enjoyed this podcast, and if there are any topics you'd like to hear us tackle in future episodes!