Typing games have taken a lot of different forms over the years, from educational typing games in elementary school to campy zombie “shooters” a la The Typing of the Dead, but none are quite so polished or have as much spirit (and spirits) as The Textorcist: The Story of Ray Bibbia. Players take control of a rogue exorcist, twenty years after his exile from the Church. Ray Bibbia isn’t your typical mild-mannered man of the cloth, either. He’s more like a cross between Preacher and the Punisher, with a bit of wit on the side. He’s just as likely to burn a demon with a quip as he is to burn them with his biblical projectiles.
The Textorcist is a bullet hell with a heavy focus on boss fights. Each level has a short intro before launching you into a fight with the next boss, whether it’s a possessed maid, a human gangster, or a goat-headed prince of hell. There are two ways to play The Textorcist. Playing on a keyboard gives you a fairly straightforward typing game. The player controls Ray with the arrow keys and damages enemies by typing the holy scripture that appears on the bottom of the screen.
The controller scheme is mostly the same, except for the input. Instead of typing, the triggers are used to choose between two letters at a time hovering over Ray’s head. The text at the bottom, however, displays the order in a series of L’s and R’s, and the player can very quickly tap it out while dodging bullets at the same time — a distinct advantage over traditional keyboard control.
It can get pretty hectic when you’re weaving in and out of chaotic bullet patterns. You’ll have to find momentarily safe spaces on the battlefield to take your fingers off the arrow keys in order to type and fight back. Fortunately, the game is rather forgiving with damage. Ray is invincible while he’s holding his bible, but getting hit will knock it out of his hands and leave him vulnerable. He’ll have to recover it quickly, too, because taking too long will reset the current line of text, which can be quite frustrating if you’re near the end of a damage phase.
The boss fights are varied and unique, and the game gets creative with the scripts Ray uses. Each boss has unique attacks and effects that that can wreak havoc on the book. Projectile vomit may obscure the pages, or a possessed vegan black metal singer may lock you in place until you type out a vegetable pun. The font can be a little difficult to read, especially when a demon flips it upside down or mixes up the letter order into alphabet soup. The script itself evolves, as well. You can fight off a mugger in the tutorial with a simple “Shut up!”, but Ray’s invocations become more traditional, complex, and Latin as the caliber of demons evolves.
Outside of the boss fights is where the game suffers most. Boring puzzles, drawn out conversations and comedic dialogue that frequently falls flat makes for a tedious slog between the real action. One “puzzle” involved blindly walking around a large environment looking for three “Examine” prompts that served only to waste time. Almost everything that happened outside of the fights was ultimately forgettable.
The story begins with Ray embarking on a fairly routine exorcism. So routine, in fact, that the first mission is actually an homage to The Exorcist. Without revealing too much about the plot, after saving a young girl from possession, Ray discovers that there may be more to this case than he first assumed. His investigation takes him around the city of Rome, visiting strange, demonic locales and strange, demonic characters in a series of boss fights that eventually lead into the heart of the Holy Church itself. Most of the characters besides Ray only make fleeting appearances that are played for laughs. The only one that makes more than two appearances, and the only named character who isn’t a boss is Magda, the aforementioned possession victim turned maid who seems only to exist to push Ray towards his next exorcism. The bosses themselves are characters of their own, and interactions with them are where the writing gets its chance to shine.
Be warned, though: exorcism isn’t easy, and the early levels may lure you into a false sense of security. Elder demons are very powerful, and later missions are relentless in difficulty. Some of this can be attributed to the unusual gameplay, but much of The Textorcist would be difficult even with a more traditional control scheme.
Visually, the game is very competent. Pixel graphics do the job well, and the amount of detail in the environment is sometimes surprising. Whether it’s flies buzzing around a pile of trash near the edge of the frame, or the viscera of a recently smited pile of gangster, it’s clear that a lot of time and effort went into the visual design and presentation. The same can be said of the music. The soundtrack played during the fights is good, if not particularly memorable.
The tone of the dialogue can be pretty grating. The style of comedy grows stale after a few hours, but the story itself is surprisingly deep. Ray Bibbia’s personal involvement in the story is handled with an unexpected deftness. The story’s events are absurd and bizzare, to be sure, but there are a few points where the jokes are withheld, and the game sneaks in a deep moment. It’s not the Citizen Kane of video games, but the narrative is more interesting than might be expected from the game’s light veneer.
The game doesn’t stick around long enough to outstay its welcome. Those story beats are spread pretty thin through a fairly short campaign. Its length is padded out a bit by sheer difficulty. The amount of tries it takes to beat an individual boss varies from a few minutes to a few hours depending on your speed and typing skills, but a proficient typist can knock the game out in less than five hours.
The Textorcist offers a unique twist on bullet hell gameplay that’s bogged down by annoying design and bad dialogue. Impressive but disappointingly few boss fights provide some hours of entertainment, but the game has little else to offer.
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