Mystik Belle was released in 2015 on pretty much every available console, including the Ouya, if the Ouya really counts. Every console except the Xbox One, that is. But the Belle McFae and the Hagmore School of Magic have finally landed on the Xbox with all their original beautifully nostalgia induced charm and retro-inspired gameplay. Mystik Belle is a gem of an indie game from Last Dimension, a studio manned by a single person, and brought to consoles by WayForward. The game releases on Xbox One timed well for the Halloween season, and if you haven’t already played it on any of the other platforms, it’s definitely a game you didn’t know you needed for All Hallow’s Eve or any casual evening of gaming. This is our Mystik Belle review for Xbox One.
If you take a moment to appreciate the release trailer for Mystik Belle, you’ll have glanced the entire tonal style of the game. Mystik Belle is, for all puns intended, magical. It’s Metroidvania style is infused with heart and a heavy helping of retro. Between the spot-on sound effects, music, and art, the game tugs at the heartstrings of any 30 or 40 something year old gamer who used to play Castlevania or Joe & Mac (also known as the “caveman game” because I had to google it since the memory of that game, like me, is that old) for the Super Nintendo. The PS4 and Xbox One versions of the game offer a revised storyline and trophies/achievements beyond its original release, and I can’t imagine playing the game without a controller.
In Mystik Belle, you go places, beat up stuff, collect items, and solve puzzles. It’s the standard Metroidvania fare, but it does it more than well. It does it great. There are an absolute slew of enemies to encounter, almost all of which are unique. Few of these require any special item or ability to defeat and can be beaten with wand attacks at any level, though it’s obviously much easier when you level up to the stronger fireballs. At first, I was surprised by how forgiving the game was. I could literally slam my face against an enemy, which they then subsequently exploded, with little damage to my health bar. I quickly learned, however, that health is a resource best not squandered. With the amount of backtracking and exploring and running around blindly you’ll do as a new player, you’ll encounter a lot of baddies. Smash your face against an avalanche of enemies ten or twenty times without a heart refill and you quickly find yourself worried about losing all your exp when you die. Many Metroidvanias use instant death or characters that cannot sustain much more than a few hits, but Mystik Belle finds an enjoyable medium for its combat that is still rewarding without the need to dodge literally everything on the screen.
Boss fights offer a few unique challenges and build on mechanics the other bosses in the same area utilize. They each have a specific weak spot, and with the spells that Belle learns, players have options available to them in the fights. Knowing the boss’s abilities and their timings, though, is the true test and the real fun. No battle feels hopeless and even dying with a lesson learned is motivating, not disheartening.
The puzzles are where Mystik Belle becomes enchanting. Much like it’s retro-inspired roots, players will receive minimal direction. There are no quests to be tracked or arrows pointing to an objective. Couple this with the quadrillion items you pick up, and you’ll quickly find yourself overwhelmed with the sheer amount of inventory that you have to track. Given the quirky tone of the game, not all of the items have an obvious use at first. This is both good and bad I’ve become accustomed to following specific directions in game for a long time so I found myself getting lost as to how to get to the next area or what my next immediate objective would be. It was a pleasant reminder of games decades past, even if it was minimally frustrating trying to rewire my brain again. Completing the puzzles comes with a rewarding feeling of satisfaction and captures those “aha!” moments of finally figuring the answer to a stubborn riddle.
The art of Mystic Belle is nothing short of pixelated glory. It is simple and immediately memorable. Enemies are caricatures of every supernatural trope imaginable and fit well into the atmosphere of the game. Last Dimension is a master of the color pallette with each area being vivid and enemies stand out no matter where you go. The only caveat to this is the lighting, which sometimes keep the edges of the screen dark. While this works for casting shadows and emphasizing perhaps the darkness of a tower, there were many times when entrances to other open areas were obscured by the shadows. These entrances aren’t easily seen even with the minimap.
Mystik Belle is an indie game that delights on many levels. It’s lighthearted tone and lovable art style works in tandem with clever puzzles to create an experience that any gamer can enjoy. Every new item had me either laughing at the ridiculousness of it or the sheer absurdity of how many items I had. Every new ability made me think about which area I could possibly use it in an act of rediscovering spots in areas I’d already explored, an art that most games have forgotten. Give Mystik Belle a go on Xbox if you don’t already have it. It’s well worth the asking price, and it will most certainly cast its spell on you.