I am a spectacularly mediocre gamer. If you cut me in half (metaphorically, because nobody needs that mess) right through the middle of me would be ‘Average’, like a stick of Blackpool rock. (Note: for anyone outside the United Kingdom, ‘rock’ is a confection like boiled sweets, but in stick form and usually with the name of the depressingly mediocre place it was bought from through it that people give as gifts They then get left in a drawer until they start to liquefy. Now I’ve explained this joke I expect it not to last the second pass of this review).
As such the bullet hell shooter is a genre I admire from afar. I’ve ventured into those waters before with games like DoDonPachi, Death Smiles, Akai Katana, Ikaruga et al and understood basic fundamentals like the concept of the player avatar having a specific “hitbox” and Score Multipliers and so on. But while I enjoy them I don’t have the patience or skill to be any good at them, so when Itta was given to me I didn’t hold out much hope for being able to get far enough through it to give it a fair review, what with it being listed as a “bullet hell adventure”.
As it turns out I needn’t have worried because the developers have a) made Itta short and b) made sure that the game is structured and balanced in a way that guarantees it doesn’t get in the way of the story.
And the story is… a bit vague. And odd. It’s not obtuse or confounding, but I get the impression it has a deeper message than just that of a lost girl in a strange place.
You awake as the titular Itta, now far from home, to find your father, brother and pet cat dead in pools of blood and your mother missing. A guardian spirit takes the form of your murdered kitty and explains to you that you are in another place, a place of spirits where life and death is “pretty arbitrary”. You then start out to try and solve the mystery of where you are, where your mother is and how you get out of there.
Along the way Itta meets the denizens of this realm and finds that to open the Void Gate to potentially get home she has to release 10 spirits. And by release it means murder. These spirits take the form of monstrous (and sometimes more human) bosses, each with 2 or 3 phases. All of them hurl projectiles at you which you can either avoid if they’re white or destroy if they’re black. To aid you in not being killed by one of the many thousands of projectiles hurtling towards you there is a dodge roll that offers you invincibility, not unlike that of the one that’s in Enter The Gungeon. However, unlike the one in that game this one can be chained so you can escape to a clear space more freely.
All of the bosses have a unique aesthetic and pattern, so no two fights are really alike. The game structure requires you to defeat x number of bosses per area to unlock that areas Boss. Once all those 3 are defeated you can take on Mono (the architect of the place you’re trapped in). However the difficulty level is somewhat erratic. A lot of the bosses I managed to one-shot but there were at least 2 that I banged up against hard.
The main two causes of coming to a dead stop were an inconsistent camera that liked to focus on the spectacle of a boss change rather than helping you keep Itta out of trouble. The second was that when the boss goes into super-nutso-bonkers mode the performance on the Switch can drop like a stone, and as such makes it difficult to avoid certain death.
In the main the game isn’t too difficult. Itta’s hit box is her face/head and my very rudimentary understanding of bullet hell shooters is to watch your avatar and not the source of the bullets. But for times when it does throw up a wall is developer Glass Revolver have put two options to ease your passage; a damage multiplier toggle and an invincibility mode.
Like I said, they don’t want the game getting in the way of the story.
I don’t want to go into the story too much, because if I do it kind of takes away the point of the game. For such a short game with a very thrifty narrative you find Itta’s plight quite affecting.
In fact the whole game is pretty bare. There are no enemies in the over world. There’s no score mechanic. There are no skill trees or builds or classes. Outside the bosses everything else exists purely for exposition. There are weapons to find which you give to the blacksmith to convert into spirit versions, but you can’t mod them or put skins on them or any of that clap trap. The game is refreshingly simple in that sense. Though, to be honest, I had to use a guide to find the last two weapons and that was after I’d finished the game. And I never felt any desire to use anything than the machine gun as it was so effective.
The apparent barren nature of the game isn’t really meant to be taken as a negative. It’s a welcome change to the bloated, masochistic messes I’m used to inflicting on myself.
The game looks influenced in art style by the likes of Hyper Light Drifer, Sword & Sworcery and Enter The Gungeon with a lo-fi, pleasing aesthetic. The characters have a simple, clean look and while the environments can be a little hard to read in terms of finding your pathing, they are very atmospheric which belies the pretty bleak narrative. I mean, aside from the splatter that turns up and looks unnervingly out of place on occasion.
The visuals and the soundtrack are somewhat at odds with each other in a positive way. Both are great, but the soundtrack builds on the sense of unease and the notion that this realm is not a nice place to be with some really discordant, off kilter music in the over world, and some frenetic paced tunes for the boss encounters.
Itta is a curious wee beastie. It’s very unlikely you’ll play it more than once though. The way the game gates itself means you don’t need to kill all of the bosses. I missed two that I mopped up after the end, and hoped it had an effect on the outcome in the form of a different ending but even doing those and collecting the two missed weapons I couldn’t get through the door to Mono to finish the game again. It’s a shame, but it doesn’t ruin it overall. Seeing as I missed two weapons and two bosses the chances are I missed something else with regard to the ending, but most likely not.
As it stands its a bite sized chunk of decent entertainment with a novel concept. It’s a boss rush bullet hell adventure with a melancholy story to tell that may or may not have some deeper allegory that someone smarter than I might actually divine.