|Published by:||Devolver Digital|
I’ve never really played role-player games. Secret of Mana, Zelda et al all passed me by. I bought Alundra on PS1 but never played it. The closest I came was when I booted up World of Warcraft, then sat paralyzed in front of the character selection and name screen for 2 hours, unable to decide.
Going a bit further back, my earliest exposure to RPG was with the classic Fighting Fantasy series of books, many authored by industry legend Ian Livingstone. These ‘choose your own path’ books were the very definition of RPG with skill points, hit points, multiple routes, backpack items and assorted collection of scum and villainy. Not that I realised it at the time of course. Indeed I remember asking an older friend why, after each monster encounter, I was prompted to confirm if I had won. ‘Why wouldn’t I win?’ I innocently asked, little realising there was a ‘proper’ way to play rather then just reading through and enjoying the story. Whoops.
I come to this with fresh eyes then. Swords of Ditto was developed by Onebitbeyond, a studio founded by Jonathan Biddle, formerly of our old friends at Curve Digital, responsible for many a PS Plus monthly game including The Swindle, Pumped BMX, 10 Second Ninja X and one of my personal favourites, Ultratron. An action RPG, you are tasked with wielding the titular Sword and defeating the evil Mormo who has cast her desolate spell over the kingdom. The fiend. But here’s the catch; you only have four days in which to complete your quest and if you die then time zips forward 100 years, the village changing to reflect your success or otherwise in the previous play through before you have at it again.
Feeling mighty and swordly? Then let’s go.
We start washed up on the beach with a weird floating moose head explaining what is going on. Basic tutorial out of the way we grab the sword for the first time, enter a dungeon to take on Mormo. And promptly die a horrifying, bloody death. Dang. But fear not for our hero is of the regenerating kind and we are soon back into the thick of the action. Sort of. More on that in a minute.
If you’ve dabbled in any of these types of games then the basic concepts will be familiar. Talk to other characters, accept quests, level up your weapons, buy gear etc. The key here is that, with only a few days until the big showdown, you have to prioritise what you do first. It’s all very well chasing down quests but if you don’t upgrade your weapon then enemies will overwhelm you. Focus too much on your weapon though and you’ll miss the opportunity to buy upgrades or secure little extras that can help you on your main quest. A balance must be found then, as well as finding time to collect the toys of legend that do something or other that I glossed over in the intro.
It took me a little while to figure out quite how to play the game. Being used to more narrative driven affairs, I charged around the map taking on all and sundry before having my posterior handed to me and starting all over again. Then I spent countless hours simply wandering lost around the map without the faintest idea of how to get to the location of the dungeon that housed the toy of legend I was tasked with collecting. The answer would come as one of the kids plonked themselves down to watch me play. To keep them amused I went hacking through all the bushes I could find, which in turn started chucking out all sorts of coins and other pick ups that would either swell my backpack or allow me to purchase upgrades in town. This revelation showed me the true purpose of Sword of Ditto; relentless grinding.
No, not in that way you filthy animals. I mean repeated hack and slash, scouring the environment for treasure and goodies. See a bush? Hack it. Spot an enemy? Slash him. Find an enemy lurking behind a bush? Hack and slash them. All this hacking and slashing soon builds up your sword power, not to mention swelling your bank account but it does become rather monotonous. It’s not dissimilar to the Lego games which often require you to smash stuff up. The mechanic here though is a little wonky. Uncovered items bounce around at random angles and cannot be collected until they complete their animation cycle. With no magnet effect, you must laboriously collect each item manually before they flash off screen.
In fairness enemy types are varied, a real blend of grim specimens from floating three eyed bugs to zombies, rats, bats and what appear to be floating cakes. Yes, in case you haven’t gleaned it already, this is very much a tongue in cheek world, full of light touches and gentle humour, although your receptiveness to the script will be a matter of personal taste. Your sword is the primary means of attack whilst you can also roll out the way of danger. Other items can be assigned to the d-pad, giving you a projectile weapon and torch amongst others.
The real joy is to be found when you get into the dungeons and puzzle rooms. Procedurally generated, they offer a decent challenge and a chance for the game to show off. The core mechanics are fairly straightforward, a combination of levers, switches and room manipulation but they provide a nice change of pace from the otherwise identikit action above ground, as well as the chance to secure some extra kit.
Yeah, about that extra kit. Each time you fail a run through you die. No biggie in that you respawn as a randomly generated character for another go but in so doing, you lose everything you gained in the last run, save for the accumulated power of your sword. Those stat boosting stickers you trawled the landscapes to find? Forget it. That backpack full of food, potions and elixirs your won in battle with Mormo’s minions? Poof, gone. The collection of bog rolls that you had been meticulously unearthing to complete a ridiculous side quest? Wiped out.
It makes all that grinding seem worthless. What’s the point of collecting everything, buying everything and powering yourself up like a demon, only to die in trivial circumstances and lose it all? And fine, your sword powers up but what use is that when enemies power up with you, meaning that any advantage you would expect to gain from all that painstaking hacking, slashing and grinding is rendered worthless?
There is a lot to like here. The puzzles are excellent and the world itself is fun to explore with plenty of hidden rooms and secrets. But with the clock continually ticking, you rarely feel you have the time to properly let loose to explore. And whilst we’re at it, what’s with the repeat animations? Every time you respawn the weird moose head guy appears and trawls through the same unskippable script. Then you have to go to the graveyard to retrieve your sword before you can get back into the action. Trust me, after half a dozen respawns you have seen the routine enough and you just want to get back to questing without this tedious charade of grave robbing. Map traversal is helped with the aid of a kazoo bus you can call on but again the animation cycle insists on playing through in full whilst loading times between screens can often take an age, just a black screen and some background sounds to let you know the PS4 hasn’t died.
It’s certainly pleasing on the eye, the cartoon styled visuals and bonkers side quests lending the game a quaint charm. I found the scripting a little juvenile, a one note joke that soon wears thin but at least there is no mood-ruining speech. Instead a gentle ditty plays throughout, accompanied by the clang of steel and a triumphant blast whenever you find loot in one of the many boxes dotted around.
This is a tough one to sum up. I’ve spent a few hours with it and largely enjoyed myself despite making almost no progress whatsoever. Most of my time has been spent wandering aimlessly, dying, grinding and sitting through animations I’ve already seen. In between I’ve found fun hidden rooms and taxing puzzles, coming dangerously close to completing my first proper quest without ever getting anywhere near Mormo herself. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing for most of my time with it yet still found it strangely compelling and intend to go back for more. The short time frame of each run through also makes it handy for bursts of quick play without the need to set time aside for a marathon session, as well as giving you the freedom to vary your approach each time.
Quirky and fun in patches, there are enough flaws that keep it from securing a strong recommendation, many of which could likely be addressed with subsequent updates.