Platforming games on mobile have always been a mixed bag for various technical and design reasons, notably the usual requirement for buttons on touch screens. So when a game comes along which hits a pitch-perfect retro tone and is centred around an idea which neatly sidesteps the usual issues, it’s worth a further look.
Developed by Moon Kid Games and published by those imps over at Devolver Digital, Witcheye opens with a noble knight tasked with an epic undertaking, who in a neat piece of subversion turns out to be the villain who absconds with all the witch’s rarest and most artisanal potion ingredients. For reasons best known to herself (and I for one try not to question anyone versed in the dark arts), she decides the best form to assume in pursuit of this scurrilous sire is that of a singular floating giant eyeball. In this form she can bop around the screen, changing direction with the swipe of a finger and stopping immediately with a tap. While it initially feels unfamiliar traversing levels in this manner, it quickly becomes second nature and soon you are dispatching enemies with precise manoeuvres. You might think that such freedom of movement would take all challenge out of the venture, but many of your opponents are well prepared for your free-floating ocular shenanigans. Take the spiny toadle; his back is covered by sharp spines, so his soft belly must be targeted when he jumps. The difficulty soon ramps up, and each stage is peppered with unique mini-bosses requiring you to shift your tactics and stay alert.
Innovative controls aside, the presentation is a love letter to the classics of retro platfoming.
The levels have opening Sonic-style name pop-ups, the cutscenes will make you smile, there are chunky pixelated gems to collect, and every enemy is charmingly designed, from the spear-throwing centurion critters to the cavelier twins in their bouffant wigs. The excellent soundtrack echoes the crisp FM leads and crunchy sampled drums of the 16-bit era; if not for the touch controls observers could almost be convinced you had blown the dust from an old cart and popped it into your Mega Drive or SNES.
The fifty-or-so levels are long enough to be enjoyable but short enough to not be drawn out, and conclude with memorable boss battles which will thoroughly test your targeting skills. In fact, the bosses are such a feature that there are separate boss and mini-boss rush modes, as well as a speedrun mode, and with nary a microtransaction in sight! Unfortunately the one catch is you have to beat the main mode before you’re deemed worthy (and witchy) enough to access them. Just getting through the levels counts, but completists will want to return to ensure all stolen gems and potion ingredients are found and returned to their rightful cauldron.
A superb tribute to the retro aesthetic, which certainly marks Moon Kid as a developer to keep your ‘eye’ on. Yes? I’ll get my cloak.