When in doubt, follow the Zelda formula. That's what I've come to find many indie developers do when it comes to action RPGs. Often, it can lead to some unique experiences like the death-inspired Continue?9876543210, or it can deliver true spiritual successors to the Hero of Time like in Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King. In Onebitbeyond's The Swords of Ditto, something special to the genre lies in its gameplay mechanics. However, it doesn't come without some near-fatal flaws.
The Swords of Ditto is a tale that finds itself repeating its events every 100 years. You play a new hero chosen to wield a magical sword, and are tasked to kill a powerful evil known as Mormo. Succeed, and Mormo sleeps for a hundred years; fail, and Mormo reigns supreme to the land until the next hero awakens. To fully defeat Mormo, you will have to cut off the root of her powers within various dungeons and the like, as well as find new weapons and upgrade the ones you already have to better yourself in battle. All of this, of course, has to be completed within a five-day period, as evil lacks any sort of patience.
Diving through dungeons will have you facing off against many kinds of enemies, as well as solving puzzles that'll lead you to the next room. These puzzles can require a lot of outside-the-box thinking, as you will need to use your trusty sword, torch, or even Nerf gun to figure out how to properly ignite switches and access locked treasures. It's these moments where the game shines the brightest, as the means of solving these challenges are not only fun, but they make some nifty brain exercises. While I often find myself frustrated in these sorts of areas, here they felt more welcoming as they urged me on to solve these puzzles.
Above ground is where you'll find yourself going toe-to-toe with Mormo's minions, and there's a fine amount of strategy that's required when dealing with some of the more tougher foes. Although it can be easy at times to outsmart the enemy, there are times where you'll need to pay attention and see what kind of weaponry they're weakest to. Sometimes they'll go down with a couple swipes of your blade, whereas other times it can be easier to let them burn via your torch. In a few cases, it can be a mixture of both, albeit with some timed dodging so as to not be hit with some of that literal firepower.
For the most part, The Swords of Ditto does a great job with its gameplay mechanics. Collecting coins and supplies is rather simple to do, as well as the need to find stickers for power upgrades. These stickers can automatically (but slowly) heal your HP, make your weapons stronger, and have you immune to certain attacks. It's important to find the right combination to use during any fight or dungeon, as sticking with just a certain main sticker setup will probably lead you to death more than you think it would. If you manage to get more of the same sticker, you can trade with other kids in town and try your luck with scoring some you don't have in your arsenal.
As mentioned earlier, there's a key element to the whole succeed/fail aspect of the story. Defeat Mormo, and the town will be prosperous and filled with life for a hundred years. However, if you keep on failing, then the town with slowly look more and more wrecked and rotten. The attention to detail in how much the villages are falling apart is surprisingly cool, with roofs falling apart, moss growing on buildings, and beloved statues being whittled down to almost nothing. It's also very funny to see the villagers lacking any hope if you fail one too many times, as their pep talks become more scrutinizing and depressing.
Speaking of humor, I can't help but mention the magical being that guides you throughout the game. Puku, whom I'm assuming is a dung beetle of sorts, at first seems to want to help the hero out, telling them the hows and the whys of what to do. However, die enough times, and Puku starts to rush with the storytelling and how-to's, seemingly becoming more frustrating with having to repeat himself over and over again. (To be fair to the hero, this guy only has to do this once every 100 years, so he could ease up on the attitude!)
However, in its current state, The Swords of Ditto is practically unbeatable. Because of certain bugs in the game, areas that you need to get to are permanently blocked off by pink slime walls. Only during one play-through did the eyeball show up on these walls, which need to be hit a few times to be defeated. Sadly, it never showed up again, which resulted in me having to wander aimlessly around the already visited areas until the day arrives for Mormo to smite me once more.
I get that Onebitbeyond is a two-person team, and that they are in the midst of fixing these issues as of this review. On that note, I still recommend checking out this video game while they get to exterminating some of its pesky bugs. There's a lot to explore, even with its five-day time limit, and checking out how differently the layout of the map is with each new hero leads to some new discoveries each time you run through them. However, be careful with what you collect, as you can only being back your main weapons, character level, and earned cash each time you die. (You can attempt to bring other things back when a certain galactic sea mammal comes to your side, but it's pretty costly!)
- Fun dungeons and boss battles
- Good assortment of puzzles
- Hilarious dialogue
- Lots of bugs
There are a lot of good ideas that The Swords of Ditto contains, many of which are executed quite well. However, Onebitbeyond's debut has many a technical wrinkle that requires some hard ironing to smooth out. For now, The Swords of Ditto is a good game, but there is hope that it can become a great one with the right amount of polish and debugging.
Promotional consideration provided by Thomas Schulenberg of Tinsley PR. Reviewed on the PS4.