I was somewhat underwhelmed by The Witch’s House – it’s got a lot of cool ideas and isn’t overly difficult, but it has a bunch of fast reflex bits that annoyed me, especially when a lot of them were at the end of a sequence with no save point.
I really wish there’d been none of the suddenly a (lame-looking, in contrast to the otherwise very good graphics) monster attacks bits at all. It starts really well. Cutting the limbs off a teddy bear only to discover it bleeds when you do so, and now there’s blood splatter appearing on the walls? That’s quality creepy. A giant teddy bear then appearing and crushing you? Not so much.
The “solution” to the giant-teddybear-crush puzzle being to walk back into the room you came out of? Downright lame. The monster attack sequences can be nerve-wracking when you have to lead it around obstacles or something first, but that’s because they’re frustrating. I think it’d also have made the ending a lot more frightening and challenging if it was the first appearance of that mechanic – as it is, I made it out on my first try, despite dying multiple times on just about every other one of them.
But there’s a lot that’s just good puzzle stuff and things moving slightly for no reason but creepiness. There were even a couple times when I was sure something was going to suddenly kill me and that kept moving slightly, only for it to be a red herring. One of them even made me actually get myself killed because I’d avoided going near it and instead blundered in to an area I shouldn’t have. I also liked that it has event flags separate from the saves themselves – at one point, I obeyed the suggestion of the writing on the wall, died on the spot, and on my next reload found it laughing at me for falling for it. And there are NPCs in the game…but they’re invisible, which just does so much to keep the feeling you’re alone. You have no idea who they are or what they’re thinking.
Also, I just loved the way it uses keys. Midway through, you’ll find a note mentioning that keys in the witch’s house are never used to open doors. Their only purpose is to solve puzzles. It both subverts the usual find key open door thing these games do and underlines how weird the place you’re in is.
The ending reveal of the story is great!…is what I really want to say, but the designer felt two endings were necessary, probably because it’s what all the other games do, even though it doesn’t make sense since there isn’t actually any difference in outcome. The default one is just escaping the house. If you want the one that actually explains the plot, you have to go get a hidden item while you’re fleeing the house. You get one mention of it at the very start, so I’d completely forgotten, and even with the walkthrough I couldn’t even figure out what it wanted me to do, so I ended up seeing the real ending on youtube. It’s a great twist that ends up perfectly justifying a couple things that had bothered me during the game itself. And adding insult to injury, there’s no real reason for the item giving you that second ending.
Further secrets are available if you replay again and do stuff like ignore the save points completely. Those manage to be interesting without vital, so they seem more appropriate.