I’ve developed a serious stigma about flying games on the Nintendo Switch after a series of less-than-satisfactory experiences. Between Vroom in the night Sky and Sky Ride, I’ve come to believe that almost any game that focuses on flying, especially in a whimsical way, is doomed to die. And, with that incredibly pessimistic introduction, we embark on the quest of Maria the Witch.
In this sweet but slightly familiar story, Maria is on a mail-retrieving quest via her magical broom. It seems that Zaki and Mia (who I guess are antagonists) took all the letters in the world and scattered them around. It’s not the most nefarious plot I’ve ever encountered, but you gotta give credit for the sheer scope of things. Anyways, Maria is the one tasked with getting all the mail back from a huge variety of worlds and places, but she apparently can’t fly her broom worth a damn, so that’s kind of an issue. There are people everywhere cheering her on and helping her out with small favors, but none of them can offer flight lessons. Thanks, everyone.
Right out the gate, Maria is not the same as the aforementioned titles. The purpose for each level is clear: get to the end with as much mail as you can. Along the way, there are other, interesting pickups and obstacles to contend with. Coins are necessary to create checkpoints for respawning purposes. Powerups, such as magnets, help your quest and do certain effects (like draw items closer to you). And there are several different worlds and terrains to contend with, from the clear blue sky to the dangerous indoor arenas, and Maria cannot simply get off and walk. There is a lot more to this game than meets the eye, and it’s up to the player to decide if they can take care of the mission in their own best fashion.
I straight up hate the controls. Maria is in a state of constant movement, with the only choices being to move left or right, but not in a straight line. The longer you push the button, the more you accelerate in an arc, so simply hard pressing one way leads to Maria doing awkward, oblong loops that always lead to crashing. But not touching a control means Maria immediately runs out of gas, coasts for a moment and then goes into a nosedive. What you’re supposed to do is figure out a kind of touch-and-go methodology where being able to quickly hit and release the gas leads to you flying in a (sort of) correct direction. God help you if you need to turn around, though. Touching the opposite direction makes Maria stop on a dime, lose all acceleration and immediately change her orientation. It’s incredibly abrupt, and the shock of it will cause you to crash the first few times. After a while, you start to get the hang of it, but it took way, way longer to figure out how to navigate this game than it should have.
Once you can get things under control, Maria the Witch offers a fairly decent bit of gameplay. You actually feel a lot of the challenge comes from level design, which incorporates some great uses of moving scenery and hazards to make you get better at controlling your little witch. Coins aren’t impossible to find, and there’s incentive to collect as many as you can without needing to create checkpoints. But be warned: everything that isn’t specifically designated ground (so checkpoints and the end goal) are hazards and will cause you to crash. There’s point bonuses for finishing with little to no crashing, and I never got a perfect zero, not even through replaying levels. I will grant that it’s partially due to my skill and interest in the title, but I also argue it’s probably because Maria flies like someone trying to convince their friend they haven’t had too much to drink.
Just a brief note about some parts of the level design: you may be inclined to think that, with some obvious, twisting pathways, Maria has secrets and such to unlock. That may be the cash, but my experience was a frank “no.” Every time I went off in a direction that looked like it could hold “something,” it held “nothing.” In particular, I remember one underwater pathway that had a moving jellyfish blocking the way. I timed it correctly, zipped past the jellyfish, and flew/swam straight into a corridor that ended in a dead end with no purpose other than for me to crash or drown. I appreciate the level of detail to making it seem like there’s tons of choices and places to go, and yet every time you attempt to deviate from your retrieval route you’re met with swift, ugly death.
You can probably get through most of Maria the Witch in under two hours, though getting perfect scores and going crashless is going to take quite a bit longer. At that point, you need to really weigh some things in order to proceed. For example, the art style is cute, but not necessarily groundbreaking (though I do love it far more than a lot of other Japanese indie games recently). The music isn’t anything special, but it also doesn’t hollow out your brain like other repetitive, placeholder music. The controls can be frustrating but they aren’t impossible. The concept is novel but not groundbreaking. There’s nothing offensive about the game, and it’s memorable, but does it stick in your mind in a positive way?
Maria the Witch lives on Steam, XBox and now Nintendo. And there is a nice cadence in saying “Maria the Witch on Nintendo Switch.” But this isn’t going to be anyone’s game of the year. Yet I’m also not putting this on the bottom of the list, either. In a world of extremes, Maria the Witch follows its own advice and flies right down the center, coming in as a solid, average title. As it’s only cheaper on Steam, if you’re at all interested, I’d actually recommend trying this out on your Switch, and who knows? Maybe it’ll be your jam.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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