Set in the 1800s, you are Daniel Goodchild, a former bounty hunter. Goodchild is convinced by the government to hunt down a dangerous witch and, despite his reservations, he accepts. Upon finding the witch’s lair he is ambushed – learning too late that the whole mission had been a ruse. Goodchild is murdered and left by those he trusted. The Witch, seeing potential in Goodchild, awakens him and offers him a second chance at life and – more importantly – a chance for revenge on those who killed him. Goodchild accepts. Goodchild, alongside the witch, set off on a mission to take down various factions of the Cult of Horn, a bloodthirsty cult comprising nearly half the US. Along the way they pick up the God of Guns and Trickstress, both of whom aid Goodchild in valuable ways.
At its core, Ritual is a top down shooter with a cool supernatural Wild West theme. Your goal is simple – survive. Sometimes this means you alone must survive an onslaught, while many times you must protect the witch while she performs a ritual.
Most levels last between three to five minutes, and areas are usually set up in such a way that multiple defenses block enemies from running directly toward you or the witch, but it is up to you to clear off the barriers before they are taken down. No matter what, by the end of the timer you will almost certainly be overrun.
Enemies are numerous and hit hard, so your best bet is to dodge or to take them down before they reach you. Some enemies go straight toward the barriers or the witch, while others charge directly at you. Some will leave puddles of acid after being defeated, while others will explode. You rarely have time to think let alone devise a plan on how to deal with the barrage of enemies, so all you can do is run and gun. If you attempt to do anything else you’ll be overwhelmed.
Each enemy defeated provides you with one soul, which can then be used as ammunition for various spells and abilities. One soul allows you to dash, while 15 souls allows you to surround yourself for a short period with blades – other spells create bombs, place traps, or freeze enemies. Each is useful, if not downright necessary to progress. If it weren’t for the saw blade ability I would have never made it past the first few levels.
The game rewards those who take their time, as lining up a shot will make it more deadly, often one-shotting enemies. Alternatively, firing aimlessly – while useful when surrounded – will allow enemies to take many more hits before falling. There is always a struggle on whether it is worth the time to line up a shot or to just open fire. Personally, I leaned more toward opening fire and hoping my bullets hit.
Speaking of bullets, you will have to reload – a lot. Reloading is slow and cumbersome, allowing you to easily get overwhelmed if you aren’t paying attention to your ammo. You can carry up to three guns at once, and juggling each gun is the key to success. When one runs out off ammo you must quickly switch to the next – the previous gun will reload itself while not in use. This is helpful, but I found myself not able to switch quick enough or sometimes not switch at all when caught in the heat of the moment. I’m not sure if this is due to my controls (I was using the Switch standard remotes, which can be hard to use at the best of times) or a flaw in the game itself. I’d wager it was an issue with the controls, so playing on PC or with a standard controller may alleviate that gripe.
In-between the frantic shootouts littered throughout Ritual, Goodchild finds refuge in The Bloody Heartland, a home base of sorts where you can speak to the Witch, Trickstress, or the God of Guns. The Witch will grant you various spells, Trickstress sells you magic equipment which can be purchased with horns, and the God of Guns sells you weapons. You earn horns for every level completed. Speaking with the Trickstress allows you to replay levels with new criteria to earn more horns.
Ritual: Crown of Horns allows players to choose the order in which they tackle levels, and each level rewards you with either a new weapon or new equipment which will then appear in The Bloody Heartland at one of the vendors. If a particular level is too tough for you, it may help to complete a few others, earn some new equipment, and switch up your load out before trying again.
That said, eventually it does feel like you hit a brick wall. Not in a fun, “oh, this is pretty challenging” type way, but rather a “I’m so tired of replaying this section that I’m about to quit the game” way.
While there are no bosses, per say, there are levels where the sheer amount of enemies bombarding you while you are forced to dodge saw blades and various other obstacles all while attempting to take down a large machine quickly teeter over the edge of challenging to just plain frustrating.
There are no health upgrades and there is no way to make your bullets hit harder, so the stats you begin the game with are the stats you’re stuck with. Sure, there are a few upgrades which make your shotgun have a wider shot, or your gun have less recoil, but Ritual would have seriously benefitted from a few upgrades to Goodchild himself. Just being able to take a hit without losing 25% of my life would have greatly upped the fun I had and helped the game not become frustrating so quickly.
I enjoy tough games, but I also enjoy having that ability to eventually upgrade my character to overcome those challenges, or learning new techniques to make the fight easier. I found none of that in Ritual. It was frustrating to beat over 20 levels only to have a couple left that I just couldn’t seem to overcome. No amount of changing my weapons or equipment helped and powerups – while random – never appeared enough for me to survive. Sure, an argument could be made that I was just not very good at the game but I did check other reviews and found that the general consensus was that the game was just too hard.
So while Ritual: Crown of Horns is a relatively fun game, it eventually loses any goodwill the player may have had. There are no difficulty adjustments, no second players to help, and no way to upgrade the player himself to withstand more damage – so the game becomes trial and error, forcing players to replay a section over and over until eventually everything aligns (powerups, enemy placement, etc) just right for you to progress. That was a deal breaker for me and ruined what was otherwise an enjoyable experience.
That said, I’d still recommend the game. I had fun with it for a few hours before becoming frustrated and greatly enjoyed the supernatural Wild West setting and quirky characters. For $19.99 Ritual is worth picking up – and who knows, maybe you’ll have better luck than I did with the challenges. As Dark Souls fans say, maybe I just needed to “git gud”.
Ritual: Crown of Horns is available now on the Nintendo Switch and Windows for $19.99. Special thanks to Draw Distance/Feardemic for providing a copy to Fan Fest News for this review.