Game: The Swords of Ditto
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Reviewed: PlayStation 4
Despite sharing part of its nomenclature with a certain gelatinous Pokémon, The Swords of Ditto offers a fiendish package of adventure that’s more about thwarting time than mimicking opponents in battle. There is, in fact, an evolutionary element that is quite fundamental in shaping its RPG curve, and this same progression system acts as gatekeeper of what Onebitbyond calls ‘Toy Dungeons’ — Zelda–like underworlds with puzzles and foes aplenty. On the surface, The Swords of Ditto musters a quaint, irreproachably cute visage, but hold onto that Zelda thought, because there are a few more undeniable similarities in store.
Before you hit ‘New Story’, throw all expectations overboard as if they were useless cargo. The Swords of Ditto‘s protagonist is a sword. Yes. An actual, metallic, skin-piercing, battle hardened weapon of death. How can a humanoid form possibly be a sword? I don’t know, ask Fi. You awaken after a lengthy slumber, and a chipper, slightly less annoying Navi replacement fills you in on your heroic destiny — defeating the wicked witch Mormo. A couple essential pitstops later, you’re free to explore Ditto without handholding, and what a wonderful, procedurally generted world it is.
Every new screen bursts with colourful, Steven Universe style illustrations, myriad monsters (which tend to aggregate in overwhelmingly large groups at higher levels), and various caves. There’s nuanced humour embellishing items and NPC dialogue, and it’s clear these little details were painted with a loving, witty brush. There’s even a central town selling stickers (collectibles that enhance battle stats and abilities), junk food (a health regen option Garfield would appreciate) and toys (weapons beyond your basic sword). It’s all rather lovely, but you can’t stop and smell the roses for too long.
Since there’s a clock ticking away before your final showdown with Mormo, every action counts. In one way, this limits exploration and what can be achieved in a single run (much like Majora’s Mask), but in another, it forces you to make better judgements early on. Indeed, you’ll likely find yourself diving into The Swords of Ditto multiple times — since you never really die. Let’s just say repetition is an extremely important theme. The only way to escape this cartoon Groundhog Day is by defeating the game, which, as it turns out, doesn’t wrap you in the chains of a rigid linear script, and lets you rush off straight to the final boss if you’re feeling reckless — or you’re an RPG veteran who expects the same treatment as Breath of the Wild. But for the more laidback adventurers and explorers, the main attraction is definitely the dungeons.
The Swords of Ditto packs in some very well designed dungeon-bound puzzles that keep your brain perplexed just long enough. You’ll be pulling your weight shifting blocks, activating switches, and lighting torches, and I agree, that’s pretty rudimentary stuff, but the mental work is satisfying and complements the more physically demanding bouts of action against Mormo’s minions. They’re fairly tough, I admit. Playing on regular, these beasts handed me a serious amount of challenge, particularly when their self-appointed healer kept rejuvenating the injured units and they continued assembling in busy conclaves, eager to ‘show off’ all their attacks at once. Yeesh. This is very much intended to be a toughish game, but due to the ‘death tax’, and frustrating amount of cutscene repetition, I switched to easy mode toward the end.
I should mention The Swords of Ditto supports both keyboard (if you’re playing on PC) and controller, but the button layout feels more intuitive on the latter. Overall, fighting baddies to the death is incredibly fun and rewarding, moreso when they’ve got a few levels on you. The dungeon bosses are well balanced and inject a new mix of moves and patterns into the arena, considerably prolonging the expiry of enjoyment. Another secret weapon in Onebitbeyond’s possession is the generous number of side quests.
I found myself constantly distracted by the temptation of unopened areas and shiny portals hiding bonus dungeons, and often, the prized collectibles known as celestial tokens. Hoarding in this game isn’t quite maiamai levels of addictive, but it’ll definitely throw you off course now and then. In my opinion, that’s a good thing. On the musical front, the soundtrack does well to match The Swords of Ditto‘s impish vibe; from the head-bopping kazoo peppered menu theme that will absolutely stick in your head, to the slightly less catchy instrumental house, and appropriately sullen and spooky underground ambience.
It might not leave an imprint on your soul like Dragon Roost Island, Song of Storms or Final Hours, but then again, I like to think of The Swords of Ditto as a gameplay first kind of game; if you threw The Legend of Zelda and Steven Universe into a blender, poured the results into a milkshake glass and topped it off with Adventure Time whipped cream, it would taste as delicious as The Swords of Ditto plays.
An ambitious reinterpretation of the standard RPG experience, The Swords of Ditto proves itself a worthy contender with simple yet satisfying combat, liberating exploration and sidequests, and a tough but fair progression curve that has the power to fuel several playthroughts. ‘Death’ may not be such a terrible fate after all. It’s available now for $19.99 USD on PC, PlayStation 4.
Full Disclosure: A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for purposes of this review.