Mystik Belle is a new Metroidvania-style platforming game from WayForward (makers of the Shantae series) and one-man developer Last Dimension. Playing as a young witch, you'll have to defeat magical monsters and solve lots of puzzles to save your school – and the world! It's a vibrant adventure with cute characters and impressive 16-bit artwork and effects.
Avoiding a fate worse than detention
Originally released on Steam in 2015, Mystik Belle comes from one-man developer Andrew Bado, with music by Dan Rogers. On the surface, it's a charming small-scale Metroidvania platformer. But considering that the excellent Sega Saturn-like artwork, backgrounds with multiple layers of parallax scrolling and 3D floors, and modern-era lighting effects all come from one single programmer/artist, this game is quite an accomplishment.
As Mystik Belle begins, our young protagonist Belle is busy practicing magic in the dark halls of the Hagmore School of Witchcraft. An unknown fiend sabotages the school's all-important magical brew, leaving poor Belle to take the blame. Her only hope of avoiding expulsion (and death) is to restore the brew by finding three sacred relics before a dark entity destroys the school and everyone in it!
Exploring the school and solving puzzles
Mystic Belle plays a lot like a typical Metroidvania-style game, although the large, stubby characters and meticulous old-school animation give it a feel all its own. Heroine Belle can run, jump, and attach with her broom by default.
Her broom shoots fireballs at a distace and automatically delivers a powerful melee attack at close range. There's no downside to jamming on the fire button to constantly shoot fireballs while you move about, which feels pretty good. Belle's jump is too slow and floaty, though, which takes some getting used to.
To aid Belle with navigation, she has a too-small minimap in the corner of the screen and a full-sized map that displays when she checks her inventory. I wish the map showed more details, as it's a bit hard to remember points you want to return to when everything looks the same on the map. That said, rooms with fast-travel mirrors show up in green. And the map is quite a bit smaller than many games in this genre anyway.
Belle will do battle with over 60 distinctive foes like ghosts, haunted brooms and books, spiders, mandragoras, and more. As she gains XP from killing enemies, she'll eventually level up. Leveling up boosts her health and eventually improves her broom's fire attack. She'll also gain new powers like a charged electrical shot and dash by solving puzzles and defeating the game's eight bosses.
Puzzles play a large part in Mystik Belle, so much that the developer considers it a hybrid Metroidvania/adventure game. Opening new paths tend to involve finding and using the appropriate item on a unique object, door, or switch, rather than just collecting a new ability as with most Metroidvanias. The puzzles are usually intuitive, but sometimes you'll have to backtrack and speak to a specific NPC before a solution becomes available. Don't fear an overabundance of adventure game-style headscratchers, but there will be a few.
On normal difficulty, Mystik Belle leans fairly easy for this style of platformer. Enemies drop health so frequently that you should seldom die, especially if you stop to grind XP now and then. A harder difficulty ups the ante considerably though, with tougher enemies and no fast-traveling. There aren't any difficulty-based achievements, but it might still be a good idea to play on Hard – if you like a challenge.
Inventory management is another source of challenge in general, as Belle can only carry a few of the many unique items found throughout the school at one time. Storage chests located in fast-travel rooms and other locations work the same way as in Resident Evil games, though. You just need to remember to stash things until they're needed.
The Xbox One version of Mystik Belle features 14 achievements (one less than the Steam version, oddly) worth a total of 1,000 Gamerscore. Most of these will come through normal progression, though a few require some extra effort. There are two different endings, for instance – one for beating the game without finding all eight relics, and one for catching them all.
There are also Achievements for never leaving your hall pass behind and for completing the game in under an hour. Having beaten the game normally, the latter shouldn't be much trouble – especially if you follow this speedrun guide. On the whole, Mystik Belle will be a breezy 4-6 hours completion.
Mystik Belle is smaller in scale than top-tier Metroidvanias like Ori and the Blind Forest and Axiom Verge. It falls more closely in line with the excellent Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap, albeit with a more pixelated look and a greater emphasis on story and puzzles. This is a tight platforming adventure that overflows with whimsy and charm, never overstaying its welcome. Fans of the genre (and Sega platformers of old) will find Belle and her world bewitching.
- A whimsical adventure with charming characters and a decent dose of humor.
- Solve puzzles using a variety of items found throughout the school.
- A great art style that evokes classic Sega platformers, with excellent sprites and background details.
- Belle's jump is too floaty.
- The game is a little on the short side (but at least there's no filler).
Mystik Belle sells for $14.99 on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Steam.
Xbox One review copy provided by the publisher.