Video games operate best in chaos. Unpredictable situations and frantic decisions make up a vast majority of my favorite gaming experiences, which is why time management is such an exciting feature in new titles. Tiny Witch is a game about running a shop on a strict timer and with strict goals, seemingly ideal for shenanigans, but unfortunately, it is far from the hectic playground I wanted it to be.
There is nothing more disappointing than expecting stress and receiving a dull experience instead. Managing a minion-making shop after being trapped and forced into her position, the titular tiny witch seems to have her work cut out for her, but this could not be further from the truth. The game is very stagnant and does not evolve in any significant ways.
There are four locations to conquer, 10 days each, two shifts a day, which total around five hours of playtime. Each starts in the same situation, with slightly different recipes and environmental hazards. A shop possesses a key ingredient that is thrown into a cauldron, the result of which can then be ground in one of the specialty mortars. These can then be mixed using up to three ingredients to create a minion for the awaiting customer. Rinse, repeat.
The customers are split into regular, impatient, and rich. They have a bar that depletes with time, and once it reaches a certain level they pay less and throw out an attack. These, like any other hazards in fact, rarely impact your performance. Most of them are easy to avoid, and the money that falls out upon getting hit can be picked back up at any point during the shift.
The hazards in general do not impact the gameflow in any way. I felt like I was walking directly into them most of the time. There is a trap that reverses your controls, but it is faster to walk over it than around it. There is a trap that slows you down, but the penalty is miniscule. There is a torch that has to be reset to be able to see the whole shop, but the player likely already knows where everything is anyway.
None of them change anything mechanically either. Walking from right to left is still all there is to it, sometimes one just has to hold the button a bit longer or stop for a second. Tiny Witch does not build on itself mechanically, or recipe-wise. At worst, a minion requires two of the same ingredients, but it is still just waiting a bit more while working on something else.
The timings and requirements are all extremely lenient. I never used all the things available in the shop, and I was still always vastly over the required money goal. The sense of urgency is non-existent. The witch can walk up to customers and apologize to them to boost their patience bar, yet the only thing this achieves is possibly receiving more money when delivering them their little cube minion. You cannot go above a certain patience level once it drops too far, and at the lowest level, they do not pay.
There is no penalty for leaving them empty-handed, so if it is too late, there is no need to even worry about them anymore. This is perhaps the worst mechanic, as it eliminates any feeling of guilt typically associated with losing a customer. The more complex recipes pay more, but why bother when you can finish two others in the meantime with no penalty?
The controls are what make the whole experience incohesive though. There is a rhythm mechanic of sorts, where each step or grab action is done on a small timer, and this is just completely infuriating. Sometimes you just want to grab something, but your character refuses to do it for half a second. This means that everything operates on invisible tiles, which feels awkward. The delay makes Tiny Witch feel terrible on controller, and merely passable on keyboard.
Free movement would be preferable, as it would also allow for a faster, more frantic tempo overall. The game rhythm is unfortunately rather sluggish, and the music does not even try to follow this internal beat that your character follows. My brain was undergoing a sort of silent cacophony as I tried to process the timings inside my head while the generally unremarkable soundtrack did its own thing. It was very annoying.
Tiny Witch desperately lacks variety. Some power-ups available in the shop are not even unique to the given location, and on occasion, even the ingredient sprites are repeated. A game like this desperately needs to be as tight as possible and make every section count, but it just unfortunately does not, and the mundanity constantly creeps in.
Somewhere in this messy combination of cozy and stressful, there exists a solid feeling of pace that could be fine-tuned with a few adjustments. Slightly ramping up the difficulty, making it so that the music matches the game’s beat or perhaps removing the input delay could do wonders for Tiny Witch. As it stands it is just a stale, underwhelming campaign that does not draw me in for another go.
Mateusz played Tiny Witch on PC with a review code.