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Slay the Spire Meets Candy Crush In the Roguelike Demo I Can’t Stop Playing

I’m bewitched.

key art from Witching Stone
Alexander Taylor
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Roguelike games like Hades II are tailor-made to keep you playing for hours. Each run through the game is different enough to be unpredictable, and there are so many levels, enemies, and upgrades already packed in to the game in Early Access that you could spend days playing without seeing everything. But instead of facing off against the time god, I’ve spent the past two weeks playing a very different roguelike whose demo you could completely exhaust in a couple of hours. It’s just that good.

Witching Stone is something of a mashup between a roguelike deckbuilder and a match-3 puzzle game. Its structure will be familiar to fans of Slay the Spire or other similar games. You’re presented with a map with increasingly difficult battles and stops to claim upgrades scattered across, and you choose which order to tackle them in. Each map ends with a climactic boss battle, which you can challenge as soon as you unlock the path to it, or spend more time fighting smaller enemies to build up strength.

Witching Stone combines the best parts of roguelike deckbuilders and match-3 games in one magical package.

What sets Witching Stone apart is how those battles actually play out. Rather than a hand of cards, you’re greeted by a puzzle board of colored gems for each battle, not unlike what you’d see in Candy Crush, or a closer match, Puzzle Quest. But rather than making lines of three matching gems, your goal is to draw patterns that represent different spells, using a pool of mana where each point lets you activate one gem. For example, the starting character, Gwen, gets two spells to start. Drawing a line through one red gem then two yellow gems will cast a fireball, while drawing a line through two blue gems will cast a shield.

There’s something so satisfying in that simple premise that I’ve kept playing since I discovered Witching Stone shortly after the late April demo launch. The first night I found it, I stayed up well past midnight with bleary eyes exploring everything the demo had to offer. Since then, I’ve reined myself in a bit, playing a round or two when I have a few spare minutes to spend slinging spells throughout the day.

Witching Stone’s demo shows off its extremely promising puzzle gameplay.

Alexander Taylor

I have something of a love-hate relationship with both deckbuilders and match-3 games. They’re both genres that can easily draw me in with their infinite replayability and captivating randomness, but new entries in either rarely stack up to the games I’ve already played. By combining casual puzzle game mechanics with the unpredictable progression of deckbuilders, Witching Stone captures the best of both worlds while still managing to feel like something brand new.

While it’s far less complex than a game like Slay the Spire, Witching Stone does mix things up enough to make it worth your while even if it doesn’t hit you directly in the dopamine receptors like it does for me. The unlockable witch Ceridwen focuses more on offense and combos than Gwen, with no shields but the ability to summon minions powerful spells that require you to first obtain special gems by using weaker powers.

Witching Stone should be familiar to roguelike veterans, but with an intriguing twist.

Alexander Taylor

Along with gaining new spells along your journey, you can also pick up badges that modify existing spells. One might cause an attack to heal you while another causes gems that boost your power to appear on the board. There’s already a good variety of spells to choose from, with fun effects like targeting the weakest enemy standing or firing off automatically when you slay a foe. Plus, the shop where you buy upgrades is run by a squirrel who transforms into a cute witch when you show up, so that’s a bonus. I haven’t found a way to pet the squirrel yet but I intend to keep trying.

Despite only having a short demo available, I can’t get enough of Witching Stone. On top of its cute pixel art, it’s also got a delightful chiptune soundtrack that I fear will never leave my head, which makes sense given how much I’ve heard it recently. But all that is just the icing on top of an already delicious puzzle game. The subtle strategies of when to save mana and how best to use pins have already burrowed their way into my brain, and the rush when I’m able to cast everything in my spellbook in one turn hasn’t faded no matter how long I’ve been playing. Witching Stone doesn’t have a release date more specific than sometime this year, but I’m ready to fall even more under its spell when it launches.

Witching Stone is set to be released in 2024 on PC. Its demo is available on now.

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