Ritual: Crown of Horns is a fast-paced action title that uses top-down, twin-stick mechanics. Playing in an alternate universe set in the western U.S. during the 1800s, you will be fighting against a cult that has taken over the United States while aiding a witch in recovering the areas that have been overrun. Moving across the map from sea to shining sea, you will have missions that open up on a spiderweb network that allows you to progress through the story. Boasting one of the oddest narratives I have ever seen, along with some difficult, anxiety-filled gameplay, makes for what could be the most unique title I have played on the Nintendo Switch.
Playing as a classic western gunman, you were hired by the U.S. government to take out a witch. Simple enough, until some cult cronies attack you from behind, causing your untimely end. Resurrected by the witch in question, she tells you that you were backstabbed and that together you can take the fight back against the cult and, by extension, the government. From there, you clear out your main hub and base of operations in central Kansas and begin to fan out across the country. Unlocking various characters to join your cause as vendors in the hub, you learn of other witches that fight the cult, as well as a gun-toting religion that prays to the God of Guns. Mixing these voodoo, cult religions with the western setting and horror tropes makes for a mixed bag of interesting ideas that don’t mesh in any sense. It kind of reminded me of the original Ghost Rider, also known as the Phantom Rider. With the mix of demonology and cowboys, I couldn’t help but compare this story to that of Carter Slade. (*shudders* at the thought of Nicolas Cage’s Ghost Rider).
Each mission sets you up with the witch performing a ritual in the center of the map with a timer that starts to run down. Cultists begin to roll in from the outer edges of the map, with the simple goal of getting to the witch. It is your job to keep them at bay, using a large arsenal of weapons and equipment, to give her time to complete the ritual. Boarded up doors and windows and other obstacles can slow the hordes down, but at the end of the day you have to be prepared to mow down these baddies by the dozen. The gameplay as a whole is pretty monotonous, but definitely is “action-packed”. You have to constantly spam bullets around while keeping on your toes to keep up with the flow, and a lot of times, even at your best, you still won’t be able to hold them back. This game is very challenging, so it won’t be for everyone in that sense.
You’ll have to focus on various enemy types to complete each mission successfully. You have the base model cultists, which can also hold a shield that needs additional bullets to break. Larger versions carry battering rams and speedy guys rush at you instead of the witch, just to name a few. Some are more deadly than others so you will need to utilize some strategy to get them out of the way quickly.
The controls aren’t all that great unfortunately. You have a useful aiming mechanic that allows for an auto-aim to the closest enemy, but as you hold it down it doesn’t always snap to the next closest guy. Instead, you will sometimes have to snap over manually, which doesn’t always register correctly, causing you to aim at nothing in particular. Also, switching between the auto-aim and manually controlling where your character is looking doesn’t feel like a seamless transition in the slightest. Even with all of that in mind, the shooting feels really satisfying, as blowing heads off to a bloody mess is something that is done correctly in this title.
Weapons, clothing options, and currency can be earned through mission progression, but can also be purchased through the vendors in the hub. The God of Guns sells you guns, while a pleasant witch is your clothing vendor. Guns just allow you a different form of carnage, each with differing damage and usefulness in certain situations. Clothing can upgrade certain stats of yours like health, speed, and reload time.
You can gain spells from the witch as you progress through the game, which allow you to stop the hordes in interesting ways all their own. Spells, and your dash, use “souls” which are collected from the dead. Huh, sounds familiar. Anyways, this conglomeration of attacks with three guns available to use at a time, and the spells, make for the anxiety-inducing mess you will have to work with. The gameplay is already super fast-paced as it is, but then trying to quickly manage switching to proper weapons and keeping your spells a-flying is all too much to handle, honestly. I found focusing on a gun and a couple spells, or some combination of two or three things, made for a more cohesive experience.
At the end of the day, Ritual: Crown of Horns is a title that will give an arcade experience that those thrill-seeking, hardcore-difficulty masochists will love. The upgrade systems seem under-developed, and the controls are weird to wrap your mind around if you are used to top-down, twin-stick titles. It makes this one seem more so for a niche audience than the community at large.
THE VERDICT | Review: Ritual: Crown of Horns (Nintendo Switch)
Ritual: Crown of Horns offers fast-paced action that fans of difficulty will adore. People looking for a casual experience or those who want a story and controls that make sense will probably be left looking for more.