onebitbeyond’s adorable Zelda-style roguelike hits the Nintendo Switch. Check out this guest review from Jace VK who recently gave the game a spin.
The Swords of Ditto: Mormo’s Curse is an amazing sell up-front. It’s traditional top-down Zelda action-puzzling blended with modern roguelike elements. It makes for a different, randomly generated adventure each time you play. It’s all topped off with a wonderfully cute-as-candy-corn art style that could make even the grumpiest of people blush.
Add the fact its newfound portability on the Nintendo Switch with additional content at launch. You end up with a recipe for potentially endless action-puzzle fun. The Swords of Ditto is great fun at the outset. But, every so often the clash of classic and modern game mechanics butts heads in a way that calls question to its overall longevity.
In The Swords of Ditto, you play as the Sword of Ditto: a young kid who is chosen by the Gods to pull the legendary sword from its stone. You have to fight back against the evil Morma’s curse before she devours the peaceful Island of Ditto.
This curse isn’t a mere threat, however. You’ve got a limited amount of time to take on enemies, complete quests and tackle dungeons to prepare for the final battle. If you, our fated warrior, succeed in defeating her before the end arrives, hooray! Peace for 100 years! But, if you fail (and you likely will), the Isle of Ditto will fall to 100 years of darkness until the time comes for the next hero to take up the blade and try again.
If you’re feeling like you’ve heard this sort of thing before, you wouldn’t be mistaken. The Swords of Ditto wears its inspirations on its sleeve, both in its premise and its gameplay. A lot of care was taken to evoke the responsive movement and action of the 2D entries in the classic Zelda series. Even though it’s simplistic, it’s just as much of a delight to play. Especially when battling through with a friend in the jump-in, jump-out co-op play.
Plenty of fun visuals
It’s a real delight to look at, too! The playfully cartoony visuals are excellent, and there’s a lot of visual variety from enemy to enemy and area to area. A special shout-out goes to the soundtrack, which perfectly matches pace tonally with the visuals, ranging from infectiously peppy to peculiarly ominous depending on what the atmosphere calls for.
The story has its own twists and turns over the course of the game. However, it largely sticks to the sidelines. It’s communicated mainly through text logs you can find in chests throughout the world.
While it’s probably best for the story to hang in the periphery while gameplay takes focus, it’s a little bit of a shame more creative avenues to storytelling weren’t explored given the wildly offbeat nature of much of everything else in The Swords of Ditto. That being said, the level of detail in the vast assortment of areas overworld alone is worldbuilding enough to keep you intrigued.
Back to the drawing board
The Swords of Ditto’s big twist is the added roguelike components. Everything—the overworld, the dungeons, the sidequests—is randomly generated anew at the start of each run. Your sword levels up by defeating enemies. It acts as the strength of your hero and the progression for unlocking more dungeons to explore on sequential runs. Your level carries over to the next hero (along with certain key items in your inventory). But, the downside is enemies (including Mormo herself) have levels that scale with you between runs. You’ll always be on pretty equal footing when facing down with enemies from run to run.
Aside from your trusty sword, you can also find or purchase handy pieces of equipment called Toys. Largely, these items roughly equate to Zelda equivalents. The NERF-esque blaster acts as the switch-hitting slingshot while a vinyl record lets you thwip at enemies takes the place of the boomerang. But, there’s plenty of new inclusions with unique gimmicks. A favourite of mine is the comically-sized golf club which launches enemies away and is used in certain putt-centric puzzles.
As well as Toys, additional loot includes stickers, which essentially act as clothing equipment that give your hero additional passive effects. There are also badges, which unlock a new hero with different stats, abilities and appearance you can play as in your next run.
As aforementioned, you’ll only have a few in-game days before the time limit is up and you must face Mormo, ready or not. This means exploring and levelling up as much as possible, returning to town to restock or buy equipment when you need to, and trying not to die and lose time as a consequence in the interim. The time limit gives a refreshing urgency to proceedings that, while not necessarily too strict on the regular difficulty, definitely keeps you on your toes. Luckily, time does stop when you are inside dungeons, so you won’t have to worry about impending doom while you’re exploring for items. In the game, at least.
Rinse and repeat
Outside of various secret caves peppered about the isle, there are two types of dungeons: Toy Dungeons and Trial Dungeons. Toy Dungeons, as you may have guessed, are for acquiring Toy equipment, while Trial Dungeons test your mettle solving puzzles with the Toy collected in the former dungeon. This works in the classic Zelda fashion of pushing blocks and hitting switches while battling enemies along the way. Beat the boss at the end of a Trial Dungeon, and Mormo will be weakened in the final bout.
Unfortunately, the dungeons wind up kind of flat on extended play. While on the first go-around the slower paced, equipment-based puzzle solving works as a glorified tutorial as you familiarise yourself with Toys, on sequential runs you’ll inevitably find yourself playing through the same puzzles, walking through the same corridors in almost-the-same dungeons. Going through the motions in the repeated content makes it feels as if the game has nothing there left to teach you, and it is disappointing given how much I typically enjoy a classic dungeon level.
As I began to notice more dull patches in the dungeons, it became it more apparent that the generated, roguelike parts of the game felt at odds with its core action-adventure gameplay. Zelda has the luxury of specifically crafting levels that allow for designers to fine-tune the pacing and intricately place secrets. However, The Swords of Ditto’s generated worlds all start to feel more samey each time you play, to the point of sometimes feeling like busywork.
While combat remains fun throughout, overworld and dungeon exploration began to lose the initially exciting spark of discovery that made them great, replaced instead with a resigned feeling of monotony due to the little amount of variance in both the puzzles and the secrets. Even sidequests, while presented with plenty of character, often boil down to killing a certain number of rats or collecting a certain number of items to complete them.
Ditto on the Go
The Swords of Ditto arrives on Nintendo Switch with the additional Mormo’s Curse content update (Also now available free on all other platforms). The update makes some quite significant tweaks to the base game. Most notably, the removal of permadeath at any time from the Regular difficulty. This is a feature now exclusive to the tougher Hero difficulty. The new Bounty Board allows you to take on bounties against high-level enemies in the overworld. This is a really nice addition that makes for some intense battles. Loads of content added in the form of new locales, dungeons, Toys and enemies. While these don’t necessarily alleviate the issues I have with The Swords of Ditto in the long run, the additional content does not go unwelcome by any means.
A couple of technical issues
It’s worth noting some things from my time with The Swords of Ditto. I ran into some bugs and performance issues that hindered my experience in some ways. The most recent patch alleviated many of the difficulties I had at launch. But, the game isn’t currently without its issues on the Switch—The Swords of Ditto spends time loading every time you move your hero to the next screen or enter a new area. It tends to break up the action for juuuust long enough to irritate. And, fifteen hours in I ran into a game-breaking bug. I was forced to start from scratch on a new save file until the bug is fixed. (As of writing, the fix for the bug is pending approval from Nintendo).
I have no doubt onebitbeyond are doing their best to address issues as they come. So, expect to see the game polished more with each respective update. But, at this stage, the game isn’t without its launch messiness on the system.
While The Swords of Ditto instantly drew me in with its vibrant visual style and strong fundamental gameplay, I came out of the experience not wholly satisfied by the additional roguelike layer.
If you’re after a solid action adventure that oozes charm but aren’t too fussed about an occasionally monotonous progression, I can see a definite case for seeking out The Swords of Ditto—but your mileage may vary.
Jace Van Kaathoven is a writer from Sydney, Australia. When he doesn’t write about games, he tries his best to make games with his friends. You can follow him on Twitter at @pizzasheets.