Immigration from Poland maybe big news at the moment, but we wonder how politicians would react if Geralt The Witcher (based on the books of Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski) decided to set up in the UK. The professional monster slayer would probably find plenty of work – local monster slayers are lazy and expensive – although his amoral ways might not be so popular.
Still, we're pleased to see him, especially as his appearance on mobile is so much more accessible than the uber-hardcore PC role-playing game. Instead, this is a side-scrolling 2D hack 'n' slash adventure: an approach that quite suits the game's monster-hunting storyline.
To play, The Witcher feels a bit like an accomplished action slasher console title. Combat has some depth, thanks to a range of unlocked combos, while completing a stage involves a bit of exploring on numerous levels as opposed to simply walking left to right. The game provides a solid adventure and it looks nice, too, with pseudo-3D backdrops and decently animated characters. It is frustrating in parts though, and there's not quite enough variety to sustain the experience throughout.
But back to the combat, which is the game's core. Geralt is lucky enough to be armed with two swords – one made of steel, one of silver – and depending on their nature enemies are more susceptible to damage from one or the other. Hitting '5' pulls off a basic sword slash, but most larger enemies take four to five hits before they go down. Combos do far more damage, and quicker, but they're suitably tricky to get right. Input direction arrows appear for a second at the bottom of the screen – hitting one correctly triggers another couple of instructions and the more you link up, the more deadly your special move.
The enemies themselves wander onto the screen pre-announced by a rumble of your phone. It's a good ploy as you otherwise can't see far enough ahead not to be clobbered by the time you've reacted to the new threat. They range from zombies to chained spike-wielding soldiers. Each is sufficiently distinct, although once you've worked out how to kill one, it's just a case of repeating this some 20 times to get through the level.
As well as the dual swords, you have magical signs at your disposal, although we found these to be more trouble than they're worth. There are four different types – all upgradable at the end of each level – comprising one that sets enemies on fire, one that immobilises them, one that throws them backwards and a final sign that makes you momentarily invulnerable. While they're useful when you've got some warning of what's ahead, when you're trapped between two fast-moving monsters it's tough to scroll to the right sign in time. Plus the results aren't quite as explosive or effective as you'd like them to be.
In many respects, The Witcher is a high quality game, particularly visually, and that's why it's such a let down when you're transported back to the start of a level the moment some pesky bats have ebbed away the last of your energy bar. There are some neat ideas that break up the hacking and slashing – like hitting combos to escape pits of skeletons, and making decisions about killing or curing characters depending on whether you think they're going to help you or come back to cut your head off later on. Another dynamic includes the ability to search for hidden herbs in each level, which enable you to create potions. And there are, of course, numerous boss monsters to slay.
So as a straightforward, well-constructed fighting game, it's a something of a success, but you'll find rivals like Heroes: The Mobile Game, which, for the money, offer more variety and imagination, are already established. That said, the mobile landscape is still vast enough and with sufficiently broad tastes to ensure this new arrival won't feel unwelcome.