It’s common place for a fantasy tale to feature a story about a villain that returns every ten, fifty, hundred, or maybe thousand years, isn’t it? Whilst these dastardly bad guys are seemingly superb at time-keeping though, humanity is fortunate enough that there’s always a hero ready to take them down.
That’s the concept behind The Swords of Ditto, the latest release from the lovable publishing team at Devolver Digital. The only problem is, whilst the villain of this tale’s rise every hundred years is a given, the hero’s success is a little less certain…
The Swords of Ditto puts you in the role of a great adventurer who looks to defeat the evil witch Malmo and bring peace to the world of Ditto once more. Unfortunately, things get off to a bad start when Malmo kills you. Yep.
Don’t worry though – a hundred years pass and a new hero rises, taking on the mantle of ‘The Sword of Ditto’ and looking to defeat Malmo themselves. They’ve only got four days to do this though, before they’re forced to take on Malmo in battle. If they defeat her, YAY. If they die… well… it’s another hundred year wait for the next Sword of Ditto to rise…
It’s a quirky and neat concept, and one that adds an interesting twist to the roguelite formula that actually feels more meaningful than just ‘starting over again’ when you die. There’s an ongoing battle in place, and whilst it’s one that might never necessarily end, it’s one that continually impresses.
Whilst you’re essentially continuing the adventure of your forbearer over and over again in the game, it’s not in the traditional fashion – the world is randomly generated for each playthrough, and whilst some locations stay the same, you’re mostly treading across new territory.
At least the objective always stays the same though: finding a way to defeat Malmo. This means exploring dungeons, unlocking new equipment and weakening her powers by destroying her special but well-hidden crystal Anchors that act as a source of power. It’s no easy task, but it’ll certainly help you in the long-run. You’re only given four in-game days to power yourself up before you’re forced to take on Malmo though, so you’ve got the unfortunate disadvantage of time working against you.
This time limit means you’ve got to balance out everything you do in-game. Do you go straight through dungeons to unlock new weapons? Do you focus on levelling up? Do you go exploring the world to uncover new secrets? Do you focus on destroying the Anchors? Or do you test yourself and take on Malmo immediately? You’ve got the freedom to make your own adventure, and with the randomly generated nature of the game it’s going to feel different every time. Sometimes it’s worth just ignoring the goal itself and heading out to see what you can find anyway, with The Swords of Ditto’s world fully to the brim with little secrets to uncover…
The random nature of The Swords of Ditto could be a pain for the player, though. Sometimes, you’ll end up in a world that feels like it’s working against you immediately, with a severe lack of weapons to be found and overwhelming enemies all over the place. There’s a permadeath feature in place even without taking on Malmo, so if a basic grunt takes you down it’s going to be another hundred in-game years before you get another go (or just a few loading screens, whatever).
Whilst I’ve spoken a lot about the doom and gloom of dying, it’s actually possible to beat Malmo too. This still sees a new hero rise a hundred years on to take on Malmo once again, but it’s in a more upbeat and peaceful setting that hasn’t suffered through the disdain of a tyrannical rule. Admittedly, it could feel like the quest to defeat Malmo wasn’t always worth it when the cycle just started again anyway, but it also showed that sometimes it doesn’t matter if you win or lose as long as you’re enjoying the adventure. And believe me, I certainly enjoyed The Swords of Ditto’s constant stream of adventures…
One obvious thing most players will notice about The Swords of Ditto is that it’s clearly inspired by Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda series. The dungeons, the combat, slicing up grass, the big focus on uncovering secrets, the puzzles – you’ll certainly come across more than a few little nods to Link’s adventures during your time with the game.
Baring that in mind, it’s probably obvious how the game’s combat feels. You’ll head out sword in hand and swipe away at enemies until they’re dead, all whilst avoiding any incoming attacks or traps they might send your way. You’ll unlock various sub weapons to help take them down too, including the likes of a bow and arrow or bombs…. familiar, right? Don’t worry, The Swords of Ditto has its own ideas too including a more unique arsenal of weapons that you’ll find across the world. Just know that despite the familiarity you’ll sense, you’ll also find a surprisingly intuitive and undeniably fun combat system that’ll keep you hooked in up until your (or Malmo’s) final breath.
Besides the weapons, you’ll also have access to special Stickers that’ll give your character (or their weapons) a boost in-game. It might be a case of offering improved stats, a more powerful attack, an extra effect on existing attacks, or even nullifying the effects of enemy attacks. There’s a lot of flexibility to be found in their use and they can genuinely be the difference between success and failure during some runs in-game, so finding them might become a bit of a priority for some gamers.
The Swords of Ditto has an interesting little feature that allows you to pass over your experience points and gold to the next hero following your death (or success), and on paper it sounds like a clever little mechanic. However, in practice it just felt like a bit of a hindrance. The enemies in the game scale with your character’s level, so by keeping previously earned experience you’re simply leaving yourself at a disadvantage against the foes you face thanks to your lack of weaponry. Sure, in some instances it can work out ok, but given the random nature of the game you just never know.
I can appreciate that the game has to balance out the difficulty to ensure the player doesn’t have too easy of a time, but it just seemed to negate the whole concept of the ‘passing on’ system. It’s a shame, because the idea itself is clever.
One of The Sword of Ditto’s best features is its local co-op mode, which allows another player to drop in or out of your game with no fuss. Everything is better with two players, whether it be exploring the world, clearing out dungeons, or simply taking down the nefarious Malmo. The extra player does add its own challenge thanks to the fact that enemies become more formidable to make up for the extra sword, but it’s a price worth paying in order to play with a friend.
Whilst it gets a lot right with its gameplay alone, one of the best things about The Swords of Ditto comes with its visual style. It looks absolutely fantastic with its vibrant cartoon world, and you could easily mistake it for the sort of cartoons you’d see on Cartoon Network or Nickelodeon. All of the characters and enemies you encounter are creatively designed too, whilst the environments are jam-packed full of personality. Seriously, I might be riding high thanks to the amount of time I’ve spent with the game so far, but I really think that The Swords of Ditto has some of the most impressive cartoon-style visuals I’ve seen in any game.
Whilst The Swords of Ditto looks absolutely stunning though, it did have a few issues on the technical side. I suffered a handful of crashes playing the game, some which were hard crashes that sent me back to the PlayStation 4 menu and others which just locked up the game. I noticed that some of the busier areas could see a drop in frame rate too, though this wasn’t a consistent issue. Despite not being too common an occurrence, when an issue did crop up it could be pretty frustrating – hopefully, the developers will be able to fix some of these sooner rather than later.
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Release Date: Out Now
Format(s): PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), PC