My Aunt is a Witch (PSV) - ReviewAdam Cartwright , posted on 01 December 2020 / 2,805 Views
Before I owned a PlayStation Vita, I'd never played a visual novel before, but thanks to brilliant titles like DanganRonpa and Steins;Gate I discovered that reading a thrilling interactive story on a handheld device can be just as enjoyable as any AAA gaming experience. Even into the handheld's later years, things like London Detective Mysteria and A Winter's Daydream showed me that a more sedate adventure game can be just as fun as an action-packed title. Sadly, My Aunt is a Witch isn't among these hits. It's an ambitious title with gorgeous animation and clever gameplay elements, but unfortunately the narrative doesn't measure up.
In My Aunt is a Witch you follow the story of Thomas, a young boy who grew up in an unloving family home with his abusive stepmother and absent father. Upon escaping to go and stay with his favourite Aunt Alice over the summer, he inadvertently witnesses her wearing a pointy hat (the first telltale sign), chasing around a black cat (the second telltale sign), while holding a broom (the third telltale sign), before casting some spells from her magic wand (at this point, the jig is up). He realises that his aunt is a witch (hey, that's the name of the game!) and rapidly gets sucked into her world of magic, potions, and otherworldly phenomena.
Thomas quickly discovers that his Aunt has gone through dozens of students, trying to teach them the art of magic, but each of them has met a grizzly end. Despite this rather obvious warning, he decides to become her apprentice and takes up the skill of potion-making under her supervision. This forms the bulk of the gameplay that isn't spent reading conversations; you'll view point 'n click adventure screens where you choose items to interact with, in order to solve puzzles to gain other items, which will then allow you to make the potions you need and in turn deepen your knowledge of the mystical arts.
The puzzles can be as simple as finding the right object to click on, but more often than not are multi-layered things where you might need to grab an item, use it on another item, and then take it to a third to get what you're actually after. Luckily, there's a log that can be accessed with the L button which gives you hints and tips about what you need to do. There was never a point where I was particularly stuck when playing My Aunt is a Witch, but there were times I had to think about where something might be - something I appreciated, as it added some variety to what would otherwise be a run-of-the-mill visual novel.
There are various other gameplay elements scattered throughout. For example, there's a section where you have to guess which shadow shapes a girl is making with her hands, and making potions involves pressing the right sequence of buttons before the time is up. These additions are things I liked in theory and certainly made the experience less static, but unfortunately they're executed poorly - the sensitivity of the cursor for the point 'n click sections feels all off, for example, making it really finicky and difficult to be precise.
Worse still is the fact that the menu controls are anchored to the text box (although this shifts part way through the title), making it very common to accidentally move the cursor over to the save or load buttons if you accidentally touch one of the analogue sticks (piece of advice - use o to scroll through the text on Vita rather than x). It feels like these elements were well thought out in theory but then not enough care was actually put into implementing them, making playing through the game a bit of a chore.
I'd attach less weight to this if the story of My Aunt is a Witch had sucked me in, but it unfortunately didn't - and not through a lack of trying on the game's part either. All the pieces are there for a good narrative, as the world of the witches and all the associated adventures you go on are fun in theory (you'll travel to the witch council, the toy dimension, and more), but it left me quite bored in reality. It isn't helped by an inconsistent tone; one instance it's lighthearted and silly, then the next it's serious and you'll be finding the skulls of former (child) students and watching your aunt melt a rival witch.
There's at least a selection of likable characters. Aunt Alice wasn't my cup of tea, but the sassy cat Grimmor (her ex-boyfriend who she transformed), helpful tree branch Fabian, and Thomas' childhood toy friend Beam all help bring the story to life. The central storyline of Thomas' mother and her connection to the world of witchcraft also remained a compelling central premise. But all of the above is undermined somewhat by inconsistent spelling ('gush' instead of 'gosh' and 'sighged' instead of 'sighed' were the two most obvious ones I spotted).
One area where I have no problem heaping praise on My Aunt is a Witch is its presentation - both the audio and visuals of the game are a treat for the senses. The drawing is sharp and there are plenty of beautiful CG scenes that illustrate key moments, plus the majority of them are slightly animated, with things like attacking sweets or pulsing spirits, which helps inject life. I also really enjoyed the colour palette of blues and purples. The soundtrack is surprisingly on-point too, consisting of an orchestral-inspired selection of compositions which fit the overall tone well.
By far the biggest sin that My Aunt is a Witch commits though is with its conclusion. Put simply, it ends without one, and brazenly sets up for a sequel that may or may not come in the future - and may or may not land on Vita. It's hugely abrupt and disorienting, meaning that although the title is slightly more substantial than other indie visual novels, like A Winter's Daydream (this game clocks in at around 5-6 hours), it's overall far less fulfilling. I'd rather spend less time on a more complete and heartfelt game, personally.
I also had the game crash on me once or twice, and backgrounds occasionally glitched out, meaning that overall My Aunt is a Witch isn't the polished experience it should be (nor the one implied by the beautiful presentation). And that's really a real shame, because the core idea is a solid one, it just needed to be handled with more care.
This review is based on a digital copy of My Aunt is a Witch for the PSV, provided by the publisher.