This twin-stick shooter beats players over the head with its difficulty but lacks the chops to make that challenge entertaining or fulfilling.

Ritual: Crown of Horns offers a great example of a game too hard for its own good. This occult western challenges players to mow down formidable waves of monsters and zombified outlaws.  Those skilled and patient enough to overcome Ritual’s brutal opposition will find its ho-hum design and flawed progression dashes any sense of reward or satisfaction.

Ritual’s twin-stick gunslinging emphasizes precision over pure running and gunning. Players can hold the fire button to dial in shots that deal critical damage and often instant kills. Singling out headshots while juggling the constant reloads can be entertaining in a cerebral sense but the sheer volume of enemies work against it. Ritual regularly dumps an overwhelming number of monsters on your lap. Thus, taking that extra second to line up headshots is often a death wish. In the end, you’ll largely end up emptying magazines with reckless abandon. Useful spells compliment the gunplay with standouts including an exploding mine trap and a crowd-sucking tornado. Regardless of how much firepower you pack, every victory feels earned by the skin of your teeth.

A lot of Ritual’s frustrating difficulty stems from its progression system. Completing missions earns horns used to purchase stat-boosting equipment, such as a longer weapon range or improved healing. However, the upgrades themselves are locked behind said missions. If you can’t, say, conquer that brutal survival challenge, you’ll never gain anything new to buy and thus can’t improve your undead cowboy. This often creates stagnant periods of beating your head against stages using the same old perks, many of which feel largely ineffectual. This setup also makes focusing on a certain playstyle tough to pull off. For example, if you prefer shotguns and only want the enhancements centered around them, you need to complete arenas all over the map as the desired perks are scattered across different levels. A challenge mode lets you grind additional horns by replaying old levels, but that means nothing if you haven’t beaten stages and acquired the upgrades to spend them on. 

Ritual would be a more tolerable experience if every upgrade was available to purchase from the get-go. That way you can just focus on saving up dough for new gear. The game is challenging enough that this wouldn’t dilute the experience. As it is, failed runs feel fruitless and demoralizing. On top of being hard, missions lack variety. The small handful of mission types all boil down to surviving until the clock expires. As for the bland and bullet spongy boss fights, the best thing that can be said about them is that they’re few and far between. 

Ritual also suffers from a lack of polish, namely one game-breaking but beneficial exploit. Pausing during transitions between waves freezes the on-screen enemies in place. Some models even revert to T-poses. This allows you to simply pick off the now broken foes and/or run down the clock to victory. The bug works every time on any stage featuring a pause in action. Frankly, it became the only way to complete several harder levels. Even a boss fell victim to it. Is it cheap tactic? For sure, but after repeatedly failing to brute force your way through a stage using the same mismash of upgrades, you’ll take all the help you can get.

The uninteresting tale about a half-demon cowboy teaming with a witch to combat an evil cult doesn’t to much to sweeten this raw deal. Ritual: Crown of Horns has a solid enough foundation but it fails at making its challenge feel enjoyable or fulfilling. Unless you’re a gamer of the sadomasochistic variety, mosey onto the next twin-stick shooter, partner. 

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Ritual: Crown of Horns is available now for Nintendo Switch and PC. Screen Rant was provided a digital Switch code for the purpose of this review.