Cowboys shooting bandits, smugglers and aggressive natives are par-for-the-course for games set in the Wild West. Truth be told, though, there really aren’t that many titles that mix in some horror themes and tropes alongside. Well, Polish developers Draw Distance decided to tackle the seldom-touched hybrid of western shooters and horror with their latest top-down shooter Ritual: Crown of Horns. If you love horde shooters and challenging gameplay, then you’ll likely get a good kick out of this rootin’, tootin’, cultist-shootin’ title.
Once a revered bounty hunter, rugged protagonist Daniel Goodchild meets an unfortunate end at the hands of his latest target: a witch. The twist is that she’s not the real villain here. It’s revealed that half of the population of America are actually cultists in disguise, and that even includes the government that ordered him to perform the hit in the first place. The gunslinger finds himself resurrected and imbued with fanciful powers, and is tasked to help the witch purge the lands. Plot developments and needless exposition is explained via lengthy, dull dialogue interactions.
In most of the levels, the witch will perform a ritual, and must be defended from the inevitable waves of fodder until time runs out. Cultists will slowly stroll out of the void towards her, only pausing to chop down any barricades in their path. There are a handful of enemy types that will specifically target you if you’re in their sights, however. Three weapons can be carried into each mission – the game’s armory is made up of a handful of revolvers, rifles, shotguns and crossbows – alongside a few spells that are fuelled by souls dropped from dead enemies. Thing is, it’s just as tactical as it is action-packed, so you’ll definitely need to pick out an ideal loadout for the job and plan accordingly. Thankfully, most of the guns are pretty effective, and the spells are life-saving inclusions.
The overworld map is made up of three branching paths and a multitude of levels set in murky looking towns, graveyards, and other spooky locations. They’re quite compact in size, so you won’t have to worry about getting lost. The rewards you earn from these are plentiful, ranging from new weapons and spells to purchasable items that give you perks when equipped. Then there’s the added bonus of being able to revisit completed levels in order to beat bonus objectives for extra currency, which gives it a bit more replay-value.
A few cool twists help some missions stand out from the rest. For instance, the witch may periodically teleport around the map, or will distract foes with decoys. Energy barriers will periodically open and close, which will either block off the horde or offer shortcuts. A few will have you fending for your own life against waves of aggressive baddies targeting you alone. Usually, you’ll need to get around the map on foot, or by using your dash move, but you can expect teleportation pads in some of them. None of it is particularly intuitive or revolutionary, but it works pretty damn well across the board.
Few of these missions will cut you slack, though. While powerups can occasionally be found to help keep you alive – by increasing your running speed, reload time, and number of souls collected for each kill, respectively – health drops are hard to come by. They vary from appearing semi-frequently in some levels to not even appearing at all in others, and the fact that they glow red means they often be mistaken for a pool of blood, of which there’s lots to spill. The boss battles are especially difficult. These tend to be stationary targets that soak up damage like photosynthesis, making the four encounters feel needlessly lengthy and frustratingly bloated.
It’s not the prettiest-looking game, but its performance is stable enough on the Switch. Its loading times are a pretty frustrating to sit through; booting up a mission from scratch can take upwards of 20 seconds. Still, its artwork, during both the loadings and conversations, are pretty swell. It has some decent Heavy Metal tunes to accompany the mayhem, too.
Ritual: Crown of Horns is a solid recommendation. While the difficulty curve will no doubt scare off some players, the satisfying combat, diverse missions and numerous unlockable pieces of gear makes it a worthwhile shooter to try out. While the dialogue and loading times can drag on a bit, the port runs without any concerning issues alongside, and offers enough content worth revisiting. To close with a metaphor, this one’s a bit like whiskey: pleasant, but with quite a kick to it.
Game code supplied by developers.