Puzzles Wanted (Dead or Alive) – Virtuous Western Review

Developer: Nibb Games // Publisher: Ratalaika Games // Price: $1.99 (Steam) / $4.99 (eShop)
Review copy received from publisher

The Old West has been the setting of numerous game genres. The rich history and romanticized nature of the period feeds into deep stories about the chivalrous cowboy ready to stand up against the bad guys dressed in black.  These ideas work well with genres that have any amount of storytelling, but I can’t recall any puzzle game that uses the Old West as its background.  Enter Virtuous Western from Raitalaka Games.

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A Hair in the Butter

A gang of varmints has stolen the sheriff’s horse and he aims to get it back.  The sheriff must explore 30 stages of wooden structures with one goal: defeating each enemy.  Of course, it can’t be as simple as a shootout at high noon.  The enemies hide behind boxes and fire at the sheriff any time he is in line of sight.  The sheriff begins each stage with an empty pistol which is where the puzzle begins.  He must avoid enemies to grab bullets for his pistol and then shoot the thieves.  In the absence of bullets, he must use the environment to defeat the adversaries.

That Dog Won’t Hunt

The chibi character design and whimsical art direction desensitizes the violence.  All of the thieves are easily recognized by the blue bandanas over their mouths and dark brown outfits.  It’s easy to see how many bullets a thief has by the bullet icons over their head.  The thief will automatically reload after his last shot; this makes it easier to know when it is safe to advance and get in a quick shot.  The art direction for the stages includes a bland color palette of earth tones for the most part with browns and light oranges and yellows symbolic of the environment in the southwestern U.S. It gets repetitive after seeing it for 30 stages; the reused assets don’t help spruce things up either.  Generic western storefronts with some arrangement of wooden scaffolding in most stages make it difficult to distinguish one stage from another.   

Over the 30 stages, the goal doesn’t change and neither does the difficulty for the majority of the game. The solutions seemed obvious to me despite the developers promoting multiple ways to solve each stage.  Perhaps they consider doing tasks in a different order to be a unique solution.  New concepts are introduced eventually to help keep the puzzles fresh, but this doesn’t happen until the last third of the game which makes a large majority of the puzzles play out in a similar fashion.  

Acknowledge The Corn

Virtuous Western feels more like an extended demo than a full game.  By the time the difficulty ramps up, the game is almost over.  The latter stages introduce new ideas like a shotgun and dynamite, but these ideas are not fully explored before the game ends. With all of the stages limited to one screen and the goal of each stage stuck at defeating all of the enemies, I don’t think the developers had much room to expand hence the lack of stages and similar solutions.  The last stage involves a boss fight which is a nice surprise; this was the most challenging stage of the entire game. It would have been interesting to see the game expanded to 50 stages with new puzzle elements given every ten puzzles and culminating in a boss fight centered around that concept. This would help strengthen the first half of the game.  The latter half of Virtuous Western shows its potential as an action puzzle game, but the simple early stages may turn players away before they see the heart of the game.

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