by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
Need for Speed (Typing)
The year is 1999, and 9-year-old Quinn is sitting in the computer lab asking his 4th-grade teacher why we have to spend so much time learning to type.
“It’s an important life skill,” retorts my teacher.
“Why?” I ask, my voice dripping with the mundane sarcasm that only a pre-teen can muster.
“You’ll need to know how to type fast to keep up with your teachers’ lectures when you’re older.” A fine, if not entirely accurate reply that failed to garner much enthusiasm on my end. If she would have told me that 20 years into the future I’d be able to use my typing skills to slay demons, I probably would have tried a lot harder.
Well, here we are.
The Textorcist: The Story of Ray Bibbia takes place in a fictional future in which the church has immense power and priests enforce the “law.” As the Titular Ray Bibbia, a private exorcist not connected to the church, the player must travel around town defeating demons and figuring out who’s responsible for the recent swell of demonic activity. You aren’t going to be shooting, stabbing, or blasting energy bolts at them, though. Instead, you’ll use the power of the divine book. As Ray is face-to-face with various evils, he’s got to dodge their attacks while spelling out various holy passages. The power of completed phrases damages and, ultimately, exorcizes the forces of evil. To be honest, it’s probably the best explanation for a typing-based game I’ve seen. Of course, it’s still silly to a certain degree, but my brain is able to suspend its disbelief enough that Ray, having to focus on the book, carefully reading one word at a time, makes sense. Kudos for giving the gameplay a lore-friendly reason, which certainly didn’t have to be the case.
Do note that this game is not for the kids. There are some fairly serious adult things that permeate the story, even if they’re dealt with in a relatively light-hearted tone. I wouldn’t normally bring that up, and I’m not doing so to cast some negative judgment in any way, it just seems like a reasonable thing that potential customers may incorrectly assume that a typing-based game might be marketed at younger people trying to learn typing skills. I’d think that very nature of the subject matter would clue most in that this isn’t the case, but who knows. That being said, it does seem like a bit of a missed opportunity not to take this type of gameplay, which is probably the tightest, most well-put-together typing game I’ve played, and make it in a way that would allow it to be adopted for educational use. Replace the religious element and heavier subject matter with just about anything else and you’re looking at an entire additional market without much competition. Again, this also isn’t a bad thing, but it’s something I couldn’t stop thinking about.
Keys to Success
I’m no quick draw, but I do pump out a respectable 73 words per minute on the keyboard according to the tests that I took 30 seconds ago for the sake of writing this sentence. That being the case, I wasn’t particularly worried about the challenge that The Textorcist would provide. I’m no stranger to bullet-hell games. I’m a reasonably fast typer. Put those things together and I should have an easy time riding the gravy train from start to finish. Well, that... didn’t turn out to be the case. This game is hard. Really hard.
When it all boils down, the gameplay here is very simple. You need to dodge projectile hazards with the arrow keys and type pre-determined spells that deal damage. It is possible to type and move at the same time, though doing so is certainly a challenge. Ray doesn't take damage when holding his bible, but getting hit makes him drop it, after which he receives a few seconds of immunity to go pick it up before he’s vulnerable to damage. I can say with reasonable certainty that playing The Textorcist is the most stressful gaming experience I’ve had in a long, long time - and mostly in a good way. It really is a downward spiral of emotions to hit one letter wrong, then get hit by a hazard, then try to restart the word only to see it’s gone back to the beginning of the phrase, only to have another volley of hazards on you already. It’s so, so mentally dejecting to be mere words away from defeating a boss only to have to start all the way over, but it’s so, so sweet to hit that final key and send a big, bad demon straight back to hell. The reason the frustration works is that the game is well-designed. Each level/foe is unique in their appearance and attacks, making each encounter a fresh experience. The game would be a fun bullet-hell shooter even without its typing mechanic.
I didn’t quite dig my time spent in the game outside of combat, though. In between each level Ray needs to do a small amount of research to figure out where to go next. It’s nothing particularly challenging, but doing so often requires using his super-old computer. Doing generally only entails a few typed commands (running an EXE, searching Goo... GODLE, or looking into files), but the all-green plain-text interface, while inspired by real computer interfaces, is a chore to work with. It doesn’t look good, it isn’t fun to use, and it doesn’t add anything to the game. I would have been happier with the computer left out.
I enjoyed my time playing The Textorcist a lot more than I thought I would. Its unique mash-up of genres scratches an itch that I didn’t know I had. It’s certainly not casual, and it’s not going to be to everyone’s taste, but it is a game
Interesting genre combination, tight gameplay, challenging difficulty
Parts outside combat are a bore