I struggle every Halloween to decide on a costume. I’ve dressed up as all the basics: a black cat, a vampire, a witch—twice. But Beglitched may have saved me the hassle this year. It has introduced to me a whole new concept: a cyberpink computer witch.
Now, the title computer witch itself would be cool enough. You could say, “thanks for that idea, Beglitched,” and be done. But the computer witches of Beglitched want you not only to know about them, but to become one of them. As such, they dump you in the middle of their cyberpink witching hour, surrounding you with sugary, pastel imagery of bunnies, pink donuts, and blue elephants in ribbons. It’s not the usual imagery you associate with hacking. But why the hell not? Lord knows we’ve had way too many “cool” dudes in hoodies and Guy Fawkes’ masks, with Matrix-style falling numbers behind them. You know, the type of stereotypical hacking world that efforts like Watch Dogs (2014) portray.
Beglitched is a game that throws all that away and says computers and hacking can be cute, too. It takes the cold greys and hard greens of computer culture and throws glitter all over it. It’s a game that presents hacking as only Lisa Frank—the 90s designer of neon unicorn-covered trapper keepers—could imagine it, where spam is literally a pixelated spam-on-toast humanoid thing with big kawaii eyes. But it’s also more than that.
At the center of Beglitched is the Glitch_Witch, who can not only hack, but “manipulate the fabric of the modern world” too. That a witch who controls cyberspace is the central character of Beglitched may be a bit of cheeky commentary on gender and STEM. Witches, as arbiters of chaos and insanity, were primarily deemed to be female in the Salem Witch Trials; 75 percent of those accused were female. Some scholars of hacktivism have noted that there are “very few accounts of female hackers and very little evidence that women have engaged in hacking,” perhaps connected to the fact that there are also “frequent accounts of online harassment and occasionally epic encounters with misogynist hackers.” Having a witch controlling (or reclaiming) a male-dominated field of computing and hacking is a significant, subversive narrative to insert in what superficially appears to be nothing more than a match-three-type puzzle game. It is only fitting, then, that the game’s cyberpunk world is slathered in pink.
It so happens that the Glitch_Witch is away when you start the game. And so it is that you, the player, must replace her temporarily by exploring a network called the Flowernet. Unfortunately, the Glitch_Witch’s powers have attracted a long list of enemies, and you’ll have to deal with them on her magical bubblegum-pink laptop that you accidentally stumbled upon. Maybe she planted it for you. Either way, you’re her clean-up crew while she’s away. Or, as the Glitch_Witch and her enemies dub you, her “leftclicker.”
As you explore the Flowernet, jumping from various nodes and secret folders, you confront and occasionally get chased by the Glitch_Witch’s rivals, who challenge you to hacking battles in order to prove their hacking prowess. These battles look a lot like puzzle games, something like a unique mix of Bejeweled (2001) and Minesweeper (1989). I had difficulty with these battles. The puzzle rules aren’t exactly intuitive, which isn’t helped along by the game only giving you instructive clues after you’ve royally messed up. It seems to be appealing to the idea that you’d learn better if you’re left to figure things out by yourself, but unfortunately that leads to frustration. Hexecutable previously addressed concerns with the steep learning curve of the game, but it looks like that curve is still very much there.
I asked a friend for help at one point, and even with both our heads together, it took us a while to discern the rules of the game. Especially because enemies have entirely different fight styles, and move across the puzzle board in a range of patterns. Normally, I’d appreciate the variation, which forces you to strategize new techniques to get the pieces on the puzzle board—or battle grid, as it’s called—to fall in a certain order, somewhat similarly to Tetris (1984). However, it’s a little hard to strategize when you don’t know the rules of the game in the first place. Some more clarity in terms of how enemy hackers move across the board, how to keep track of their movements, how to avoid taking damage, and how your own energy depletes with every move would have really helped.
At the same time, this lack of clarity helps formulate the narrative that you’re just a poor kid trying to take the place of a brilliant hacker witch, and that therefore you have no freaking clue what you’re doing. And it’s true that, once my friend and I finally began to discern the rules, all the pieces started to fall in place. Get it? Because you have to put the puzzle pieces in place? …Listen, Beglitched is a game that refuses to take itself too seriously and is full of adorable puns. It’s tongue-in-cheek all the way through and its borderline corny approach to humor is infectious. I mean, just look at the “Help” icon: it’s a freaking a paperclip wearing pink hipster glasses, reminiscent of Clippy, the old-school Microsoft Office assistant. Sadly, I had to click on it a lot of times.
You’d hope that, once you’ve figured out Beglitched’s puzzle system it would start to gain momentum. In fact, what happens is it starts to feel a little repetitive. And as you go deeper into the Flowernet, you encounter more and more enemies, and may at times feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of enemies. But even more overwhelming at times is the feeling of being bombarded by more and more of the same types of enemies—you’re almost always attacked by either hacker ducks, guard dogs, elephants, or Yeti-creatures—with the same kinds of tricks, and the same battle music. Because half the excitement of the puzzle is solving it, once you’ve discovered the patterns, the game begins to get tiresome. This is a fault that could be tied to its existence as a tile-based puzzle game; they all get tired after all. To its credit, Beglitched does try to avoid the trappings and limitations of its genre by having you face a super badass boss hacker at the end of every node. It’s a decent test of your skills up until that point, requiring a degree of mastery of what you’ve learned so far, but once again it falls back on repetition.
Fortunately, even in its low points, Beglitched’s aesthetic almost becomes a saving grace. Take a look at the enemy hackers and you’ll see they are adorable. Seriously: they appear on your battle grid as bouncing little pixel-bears (who also love puns), or iddy-biddy purple Yeti creatures, or plucky mice. And all of them, in their desperate need for revenge against the Glitch_Witch, reveal their insecurities about their own hacking skills and talents, which somehow makes them all the more loveable. You find yourself almost rooting for them, which in turn made me start to question the character of the Glitch_Witch, who I already half disliked for forcing me to drown in the chaos she left in her wake. Who is she that her disappearance has caused cyberspace and its hacker inhabitants, who revered her so deeply, to implode without her?
As I traveled from node to node, this line of inquiry grew in its urgency, and led to my communion with the other hackers—it felt like we were in this together. And in my desperate to quest to learn more about her, all I could find were hints at the Glitch_Witch’s true personality; for example, as you play along, you might find her “Secrets” folder, which contains hidden gems like this: “The secret to a lot of things is to just pretend they’re other things … Our sensations aren’t set in stone. And if they are, I bet someone has an uncle who can lend us a chisel.” These secret thoughts of the Glitch_Witch, or riddles, were both frustrating because they did not bring me any closer to finding her, but also intriguing for the same reason. It left me thinking: how the hell did this three-tile puzzle game evoke a strong emotional response in me? The game has a knack for subtly weaving the mystery of the Glitch_Witch in the backdrop of the puzzles, and it proves effective in driving you to keep battling forward.
Now, if you don’t mind, I need to assemble a pink and sparkly cyberpink witch costume. It’s nearly Halloween, y’know?