(Disclaimer: Neither I, nor ev0ke, has been paid for this review. This game was not suggested to us, rather, is the result of scrolling through Google Play during a bout of insomnia and stopping when the gorgeous artwork caught my eye.)
My first serious love affair with match games was Candy Crush, but it was Lily’s Garden that showed me how amazing it was when you combined these addictive game elements with a great story. I’ve been chasing that high for a long time now, and while a few games have come close, none have knocked it out of the park like Switchcraft, a BIPOC-heavy game that’s laden with witch, Pagan, and progressive themes.
Created by Playtika’s game studio, Wooga (the fine folks who brought us the Ms. Fischer-inspired “June’s Journey”), and launching in late 2021, Switchcraft is a narrative-based, immersive matching game. Set in a college-age, modern magic academy called Pendle Hill, the game has you experience the story through the eyes of Baily (Bee) Ward, a young woman with a Hispanic look, undercut, and compelling red eyes. The game began development in 2017, but so much care and attention were paid to developing a rich story and gorgeous artwork that it was actually several years before the game’s launch, something quite unusual for mobile games.
Coming out of the gate with an impressive 1000+ levels, much of the game’s mechanics will be familiar if you’ve played a matching, gemstone-based game. There are also elements in it from the recent Pokemon-esque Harry Potter game, with players using their finger to trace complex runes on the screen in order to cast spells. While the story itself flows in something like chapters, the matching portion of the game gives you numbered levels to let you know how far off you are from unlocking achievements and rewards, such as a chest you obtain at level ten.
It was the art that initially caught my eye, being at once distinctive and yet reminding me of a pleasant blend of Arcana, Kim Possible, and several modern young adult American comics. There’s a soft, colored-pencils-meets-digital-art feel to it that’s all the more beautiful when certain elements of the usually still-frame art screens are granted movement, such as falling leaves, blinking eyes, or a phantom koi fish swimming in a starry sky behind the match game. The music is equally amazing, a perfect background score that enhances scenarios and would feel right at home on a television fantasy series.
The game starts much like a television series, too, with Bee telling us everything was going great until she began having visions (which freshman aren’t supposed to get). She confides in her best friend, Lydia, the nature of her terrifying visions: Lydia may be in great danger. In order to uncover more information about the potential threat, it’s necessary to power Bee up. Here we’re introduced to the match game, which starts off by having us free butterflies trapped on gems. After a certain amount of this “meditating” (and really, I know I tend to peacefully zone out with matching games, so maybe there’s something to this?), you earn a gemstone that represents “magicka”, the energy that powers witches.
Interspersed throughout the match games, the story proceeds and gives players the option of different paths they can choose to advance the story, such as immediately confiding in Chancellor Mari Swan, or asking the darkly handsome Professor Shirazi to help you interpret your vision (this man is already on my fictitious crush list). Choose carefully, because your choice and dialogue options lead to characters feeling different ways about you, which the game announces via a brief pop up on the screen.
Apart from the obvious witchcraft theme, there’s also plenty of Pagan-friendly vibes: one of the first spells you cast to bless the new semester is named in honor of Gaia, and a coming trip the Chancellor has planned will take the students to The Faraway (the dwelling place of fey-like spirits who “give insights into our hearts and minds.”). Lydia, Bee’s friend, is immediately hopeful that the spirits there can solve her problems, the main character is not so sure, instead believing that her vision warned her that great danger is to be found there.
Only four levels in, Switchcraft immediately hooked me, earning a prized place on my phone’s home screen. Get it for yourself on Android and iOS and discover the amazingly rich, diverse beauty of a game that’s made for anyone who’s needing a bit of magic in their life.
[Written by Ashley Nicole Hunter.]