You really have to feel for the poor people in the land of Ditto for every 100 years their fate is challenged by the evil wizard Mormo, who if unchallenged will gain control over the world of Ditto. However just as Mormo rises up so does a powerful magic sword which will summon a new hero to wield it and become the new ‘Sword of Ditto’ and must stop Mormo from plunging the world into darkness. Well that sounds pretty straight forward right?
The Swords of Ditto is a delightful and colorful rougelike action title that clearly been inspired by games such as the original 2D Zelda games of the past. I love the basic premis of a random hero answering the call every hundred years to stop an evil tyrant from taking over the land. What did come as a welcoming surprise though was in how the game balances the difficulty of the challenge next to the humour and discovery in the world. There is real depth to this game which I came to appreciate but had not expected and a challenging experience that would remind me of the days when permadeath was a factor before being spoiled of endless tries with the respawn system we now over rely on in gaming.
The concept is indeed relatively simple but deliciously brilliant. Every time Mormo rises, the people have one chance to either stop Mormo from taking over thanks to the coronation of the Sword of Ditto, bestowed upon a random person. The guardian spirit of the sword comes in the form of Puku, a talking dung beetle which is a surprise in itself. Puku will seek out the chosen one and guide them to both the magical sword and to explain what has to be done to defeat Mormo. The twist comes in the fact that you only have a limited number of days to prepare for the impending battle with Mormo and should you fail and fall victim to that challenge, Mormo will gain 100 years of control over the land of Ditto before another hero will be called to try again.
That is the aspect I found to thrilling about this game, you have one single life to fulfill your heroic destiny and that is it. Just one life and should you die then Mormo has won a further hundred years in charge and the people will have to suffer until a new hero can rise. Each life will see the Sword of Ditto exploring the world to find new weapons such as Legendary Toys that will aid the fight against Mormo and trying to locate and destroy Mormo’s anchors of power to help our hero in the final battle by weakening Mormo. With only four days in order to collect new weapons, destroy the anchors whilst at the same time trying to survive and battle to prepare for the big fight, how you choose to complete that preparation is key to success and it will different each time.
By each time I really mean each life because should you die, you will become a new sword of ditto with a new completely randomly generated look. Each new hero must go and retrieve the magic sword from the grave of the previous hero to become the Sword of Ditto once more. Now when the hero dies, you will lose everything other than the level of the sword, which increases by collecting XP from killing enemies and completing side quests for the people of Ditto. This means that even if you fail, that progression at least will carry over with the sword so you will begin at that level the next time. You will however lose any consumables you were carrying and any stickers you had. Stickers are very interesting as these can be purchased using in game currency, found whilst exploring or as rewards for completing side quests. Stickers can be applied to the sword and costume and can add new abilities in combat or boost attributes such as doing more damage at night or enhancing elemental attacks. So whilst level progression can carry over, you could spend say two of the four days of preparation time gathering consumables and stickers only to make one mistake and die and lose everything but level progression. This is honestly quite harsh but it does give the game that risk factor which pushes the player to do better and learn from their mistakes.
I mentioned the randomly generated hero and this also applies to the dungeons and layout of the land of Ditto, all of which will change for each generation of Sword of Ditto hero. This makes every lifetime of the hero unique in that the whereabouts of the main dungeons and their design so the puzzles and traps will change each time forcing the player to adapt for each generation of hero. This does have the knock on effect and frustration of having to start over every lifetime, but it really is training more than anything else as each time through will introduce you to new puzzle designs and new enemies which will teach you more about how to handle and defeat them so that one life when it all comes together will get you to the point where you can take on and tackle Mormo.
What I found helps with the potential repetition of gameplay is just how charming and lovely the world of Ditto is to be in. The art style is so bright and colourful and almost Saturday morning cartoonish for me. Certain characters, shops and locations will be there for every lifetime such as the same sticker and toy shops. I also love that each hero is completely different with one hero being a girl with blond hair then it could be a boy with blue hair. On some generations I was even a robot before becoming a wolf, it just keeps it all fresh in a way which also transfers to the hero costume once you have the Sword of Ditto with some outfits looking rather Wonder Woman and some modelled on Lucha Libre wrestlers. It all helps to show that each life is different and unique and how the world can continue to change should the player continue to fail in stopping Mormo.
Not to mention the terrific dialogue and sense of humour threading throughout the game when talking with different characters and especially Puku who tries to get the player caught up with what they have to do each time a new hero awakens by giving short handed explanations to the new hero but reacting to the very fact that you have been through this all before. I love the fast travel system which involves using a Travel Kazoo to summon a bus which enables fast travel to any bust stop you activate during your exploring. The audio and musical score is also just fun from the thwack of a sword hit to the instantly memorable main menu theme. These factors all bring together a joyful world to be in.
That for me is where The Swords of Ditto has its strength, which makes it a fun world to be in even when the frustration of having to start over again each time you fail starts to get you. The game allows players to dip in so if the frustration builds up it is good to just take a break and come back next time with the experience and knowledge to hopefully do better next time. When I failed I knew it was my mistakes that caused me to lose that hero although there were times I felt the difficulty could suddenly spike without warning leading to a cheap death and do over moment. But that is the challenge and by learning from each generation of hero and carrying it forward into the next one can give you as the player more confidence the next time over.
The Swords of Ditto really combines some traditional gaming mechanics with modern day challenges which is rewarding and keeps me coming back for more. I do like that it forces me to think about what I am doing and to learn from mistakes as all you have is one life with that hero to save Ditto and showing just how comfortable we have in recent years of relying on checkpoints and extra lives in order to push through a difficult battle or sequence in a game.
This is old school gaming and will give a challenge to even hardcore gamers out there and it is a welcome one but the whole package is delivered in a wonderful way that amongst all the big heavy hitting AAA titles out now and coming soon, The Swords of Ditto is that title that should sit there on your dashboard ready to go and perfect to spend a couple of hours in each time to test your worth and hum along to a very funky Kazoo fuelled theme song.