Mighty Switch Force Collection bundles together the original Nintendo 2011 platform puzzler game, 2012 HD remake, 2013 direct sequel and 2015 PC outing co-op puzzler, giving good value for money at a price tag of just under £17 on PS4, XB1 and Switch.
In the original 3DS outing, players take on the role of Planet Land cybernetic cop, Patricia Wagon, hot on the heels of the dubiously-attired-but-wonderfully-named Hooligan sisters after their daring jail-break. As any seasoned gamer will be well aware, chases are rarely so simple (especially in platformers), so it’s no great surprise when we discover that the Hooligans have unleashed an army of monsters to help them make good their escape. The bounders.
Lucky then, that Patricia is armed with her trusty pellet gun and siren helmet to eliminate enemies and control binary state platforms respectively as she clears 20+ levels by capturing the five sisters. Her commanding officer should probably have a word though as the scantily-clad miscreants appear to escape every time except for the last level, which doesn’t seem to be the best use of Police resources and time. Aiding Wagon in her pursuit is General Gendarmor, a mech suit, and the unfavourably-named Ugly Twitching Dog, a small dog that activates checkpoints.
RETRO ROBOCOP CHIC
Switch Force’s fudgy retro bit-graphic visuals can be quickly forgiven considering the game’s handheld origins, although they successfully set a colourful and appealing faux-anime style that hides a fiendish puzzle-platformer engine. The basic mechanics of jumping, shooting and block-switching are communicated effectively within the first handful of levels, before the developers, Wayforward, set about taxing player problem-solving skills and reflexes with increasingly elaborate stages unashamedly aimed at speed-runners.
While the mechanics are unsurprisingly limited, Wayforward excel at combining them to create conundrums that stop you in your tracks, however momentarily, as you think about how to clear the current obstacle in your path. Different types of block (force-field, launcher and touch-sensitive) are introduced gradually level by level, before being mixed together to eagerly steal each of Patricia’s three hearts away and set the player back to the start of the stage. Checkpoints are generous, however, and enemies will often drop lives to replenish those hearts to let you continue on your journey.
While there is some shooting to be done in Switch Force, it’s basic at best. Reserved for lesser enemies and destructible objects, gunplay doesn’t feel as tightly bound to the controller as the platforming and it’s not long before the developers start tossing tougher enemies your way that require a bit more ingenuity and skill to dispatch.
The sequel sees Patrica hanging up her pellet gun and badge in favour of a hose and position in the Galactic Fire Brigade. Planet Land is spontaneously combusting and Wagon (along with Gendarmor and UTD) must put out the fires on each level while rescuing the now reformed Hooligan sisters. Wayforward double-down on their tongue-in-cheek humour by introducing Ugly Secret Babies (USBs) that must be rescued on each level as well by literally kicking them off-screen because video game reasons.
VIDEO GAME: THE SEQUEL
Switch Force 2 sticks with the simple but successful formula of its predecessor by marrying cutesy retro graphics with increasingly difficult platform puzzles. By switching (pun firmly intended) Patricia’s vocation, Wayforward add environmental hazards in the form of fires that must be combatted and even used to clear a path throughout each level. By swapping projectiles for streams of fire hose water, the developers replace the somewhat superfluous shooting mechanics of the original with a gimmick that adds variety to the puzzling using pipe blocks strategically placed in the levels to direct the flow of water where it’s needed.
New types of blocks such as mud – that can be dissolved using the fire hose – and wooden blocks that must be burnt to clear the way add more variety to the proceedings and, like the first game, Switch Force 2 doesn’t out-stay its welcome with a decent amount of short but often enjoyably taxing levels.
Very often, video game sequels are able to successfully manifest in a way that is considered disappointing or unsatisfying in other mediums: usually amounting to the same thing with some bells and whistles added. So it is that Mighty Switch Force Hyper Drive Edition is – for obvious reasons – very much the same thing repackaged.
Hyper Drive Edition is a stark visual contrast to the original two games and serves as a kind of soft-reboot of the series, launching it on Nintendo’s ill-fated WiiU console. Gone are the fuzzy and indistinct retro graphics, replaced by clean, vibrant hand drawn sprites and backgrounds that really sell the Powerpuff Girls-inspired western anime style. The bit-tunes soundtrack from the first game has been given an upgrade as well and, although the original music was no slouch, the HD versions audibly pop as you side-scroll your way through the re-tooled levels.
Speaking of those levels, while you’ll find yourself retreading familiar territory (particularly due to the close proximity of the original and HD versions in this collection), the developers have added a whole slew of new stages to keep things fresh and there are unlockable cosmetics available on top of the speed run goals for those who crave the shiny things to chase.
MULTIPLAYER COUCH PURSUITS
The last entry in the collection, Mighty Switch Force Academy, is the biggest departure for the series.
Acting as a prequel chronicling Patricia Wagon’s formative Galactic Police training, the game adds co-op play and a versus mode for up to 4 players. Despite being developed for PC however, Academy chooses to remain true to its retro (and Nintendo) roots by only offering couch co-op and versus play. While this is undoubtedly the most fun way to share the game (and only requires one copy to boot), it feels a little laboured and old-fashioned in 2019.
Naturally, Academy doesn’t change up the mechanics too much but the visual change from side-scrolling to classic one-screen gaming action coupled with the ability to coordinate with friends to beat levels makes it a fun party game with the option of head-to-head competition, should egos require it.
Academy marks a return to the bitmap graphics and sounds of the first two games, and while this isn’t a deal-breaker (it is a retro game, after all), it’s unfortunate that the collection menu layout places it at the bottom as it suffers somewhat from following on the heels of the visually impressive HD edition.
Mighty Switch Force Collection is good value for money, weighing in at over 70 levels and offering four well-made, fast-paced and fun puzzle platformers that succeed at the age-old gaming mantra of ‘easy to pick up but hard to master’. While the games are undoubtedly a speed-runner’s paradise, there’s plenty of enjoyment to be had problem-solving your way through the levels, especially when playing with friends – block switching definitely requires communication and coordination!