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About the Story
You are Esme Friggleswick, a would-be-witch, who wishes to become Madam Ingra's new apprentice. However, to achieve this honour you will need to pass a test by stealing Zandor the Sorcerer's magical staff.
The Witch’s Apprentice follows aspiring apprentice Esme Friggleswick, a young woman wishing to be a student of Madam Ingra. Her task is to retrieve a legendary staff from the villainous sorcerer Zandor.
I was not sure of what to expect when I saw the cover art. It gave the impression that it was going to be a Harry Potter riff but turns out I was wrong. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this game. Its puzzles require strategic thinking, and its gameplay is well paced. I think many players will like this one.
The Witch’s Apprentice has straightforward yet cruel gameplay. Straightforward in the sense that the gameplay is not too difficult and most puzzles being intuitive (although some tripped me up, such as (Spoiler - click to show) finding the hidden coronet). But cruel in that there are a few instances where the game can become unwinnable. Some of these are instances are semi-obvious because it has to do with wasting resources. Do not eat the (Spoiler - click to show) dewberry, for example.
The central gameplay mechanic is collecting items to make potions. At the same time, there are a lot of puzzles that do not directly involve acquiring ingredients. Solving them does not result in finding an items. Rather it merely gets the player closer to a part of the game where there is a puzzle that does produce potion items. This made the game less linear and more complex.
One of the tricker elements of the game is knowing what potions you will need to use. You are limited to what you can make based on the items you find which helps in determining which potions are possible to create. Still, it is a fairly long list of potions, most of which sound like they could be relevant to the puzzles. Out of all of them you only need to make (Spoiler - click to show) three (and you find a fourth one). There are some red herrings but nothing too unmanageable.
Challenges aside, the creativity in the puzzles makes the game sparkle. They require you to think outside the box. For instance, (Spoiler - click to show) one of the potions requires fish scales. Now, you find a fishing rod in the castle. Your first instinct is to catch a fish in the river with the fishing rod, but it turns out the fishing rod is used for a different purpose. Instead, the fish scales are found from the plate of salmon in the banquet hall.
There are some guess-the-verb issues. The "use [object] on [subject]" syntax is frequently used in this game. For example, in the (Spoiler - click to show) cave you knock out the goblin by collapsing the rotting beam in the roof. The phrase, "Break beam with shovel" does not work but "use shovel on beam" does. Once I figured this out this syntax the guess the verb issues fell to the wayside.
Thoughts on Quest
The Witch’s Apprentice is a Quest game that wields a wide variety of puzzles with varying levels of difficulty. I am always hesitant about trying puzzle-heavy games made with Quest because typically the further I go into the gameplay the slower the game becomes. It can get to the point where it takes five full sections for the game to process a command which is why I try to crank through everything as fast as possible, so I have a chance to reach the end. This is NOT the case with game.
In fact, the funkiness with Quest is probably not even authors’ fault. Perhaps it has to do with the website or a problem on my end. I am not sure. All I know is that Quest games that have graphics or built-in maps (both of which are cool) tend to slow down faster than those without them (such as this one). If you have the same experience as me, know that this game take a while before it starts to lag.
There is not a lot of written story content. Rather than having the game flat-out explain the history with Zandor and his wrath, the player learns bits and pieces through the places they visit. The subtleties of the guarded castle and ruined tower all hint at this story which I liked. It is an example of showing rather than just telling.
I would like to think that the game ends with the protagonist becoming an apprentice, but I must confess I only played 99% of the game. If you are able to save with Quest, make sure you save after you (Spoiler - click to show) retrieve Zandor's staff. When you return to Ingra’s cottage and give her the staff, Zandor appears and destroys the cottage. The game then only gives you one move to respond, or he kills you which immediately ends the game. I played a couple times to try to solve this, but I ran out of ideas. Do not let that deter you from playing, however. This is an excellent game, and I would love to see if anyone can (Spoiler - click to show) defeat Zandor. Please let me know if you do!
We do not learn much about the protagonist besides her name. The game focuses more on her goal of becoming a witch rather than discussing her backstory. While it would have been interesting to know more, I like how the game does not bog down in details.
There are almost a dozen NPCs including humans, animals, and mythical creatures. Game uses "talk to" command for characters, and dialog is brief and witty. I especially liked the talking Eagle who seemed like a character who could appear in The Lonely Troll by Amanda Walker. Character interactions typically consist of "I'll give you this if you'll give me that" transactions but this is offset by other types of puzzles.
The only character interaction that had some vagueness was meeting (Spoiler - click to show) Madam Elsa. We find her confined in a cell with chains that bind her magical powers. But there is no reaction to her predicament when you enter her cell. When you speak to her there are no dialog options that lets the player ask or acknowledge her imprisonment. Nothing like, “gee, what happened here?” Instead, the dialog only consists of either asking her about Madam Ingra (her cousin) or if she has any advice for the player’s quest. At least, the player can free her.
I would say that this is one of the best puzzle-heavy Quest games I have played (although I guess I cannot say that I have played many to compare it to). But The Witch’s Apprentice would be a great game regardless of if it were made with Quest or not. I was pleasantly surprised with the story and immersed in the puzzles. I recommend this game to anyone.
And on that note, Halloween, at the time of this review, is on the horizon. Over the next several weeks, this may be a festive game to play if you are in the mood for magic, witches, and other spooky themes.