The contrast of the video game industry is astounding. At one extreme, there are the artless sequels and rehashes that broaden and dull their every facet in order to weakly attract as many customers as possible. At the other, there are games with next to no mass-market appeal, designed solely for the love of the medium, and overflowing with crazy ideas. Obviously, I’ll always prefer the latter on principle, as even a failed experiment is more interesting than a boring, safe bet. And when such an experiment succeeds, as with The Textorcist: The Story of Ray Bibbia, the experience is so much sweeter.
Apart from assuring readers that it works, I’m not sure what a review could accomplish that isn’t already handled simply by describing the game. The Textorcist tasks players with exorcizing evil by typing out hymns and mantras while dodging waves of demonic firepower. It’s set in a tongue-in-cheek noir Italy where exorcists are practically super soldiers. It increases its difficulty by introducing Latin phrases and enemies capable of rearranging or obscuring your words. If a functional, well-designed version of all of this sounds like your cup of tea, then you’ve just found the first hidden gem of 2019. If not, then you and I have very different tastes.
The important thing to keep in mind is that, while The Textorcist is as difficult as you’d expect, it’s not for the reasons you’d expect. It will certainly make you aware of the strengths and limitations of your touch typing ability, but it’s not an educational typing game – it’s a pure action game where your offensive faculties happen to be controlled with text input. As such, the gameplay rarely requires typing and dodging simultaneously. It’s more about finding lulls and safe spots between enemy salvos in which to carry out your wordsmithing, with single-hand typing largely the domain of high-level players looking to maintain combos. Ray Bibbia is also more durable than traditional bullet hell protagonists. Initial collisions merely knock his bible to the floor, and as long as it’s retrieved before another strike, he won’t lose any of his three hit points.
There are some smaller issues that prevent the combat from being completely fair, however. Taking too long to grab Ray’s bible will reset your current phrase to its first word, which is reasonable, except the book’s behavior when it’s dropped is extremely unpredictable – it’s not uncommon for it to bounce across the room and into a hail of bullets. Additionally, the font chosen for your target text is somewhat indistinct for some letters, which is more problematic than it sounds in a game like this. Finally, most sprites use a 2D Zelda/Final Fantasy-style three-quarter perspective, which makes hitboxes harder to discern than they should be. It’s worth noting that, aside from these points, the sprite art is excellent.
The Textorcist experience is further augmented by its audio and narrative. The former is a blast to listen to, with dynamic, captivating beats and satisfying sound effects. The latter is serviceable but unspectacular. It’s full of odd twists and abrupt mood swings and probably could have used a better translation. But at the same time, it works perfectly fine from an internal logic standpoint, and no one could accuse it of being an afterthought. In fact, nothing about the game feels like an afterthought. The campaign consists of only ten boss fights and some brief detective interludes, but those fights are so elaborate, and every mechanic is so fully realized that players will definitely get their money’s worth.
Don’t let the “edutainment” stigma of typing games deter you. The Textorcist: The Story of Ray Bibbia is faster, more tense, and more exciting than almost any traditional action game. Far from a novelty, the genres at play here connect in unexpectedly effective ways, so each combat encounter begins with an appreciation for the clever design, evolves into an addictive challenge, and ends with a true sense of accomplishment. The implementation hasn’t quite been perfected, but it gets close enough to be absolutely recommended.
This review is based on the PC version of the game. A copy was provided by Headup Games.
The Textorcist mixes genres devilishly well, making for a cleverly challenging and engaging title.