The Swords of Ditto is a top-down action RPG from the developer Onebitbeyond. The game was announced by their publisher Devolver Digital in June last year and instantly caught peoples attention, including mine. The studio is headed up by a fine chap called Jonathan Biddle who left the developer Curve Digital in 2015. Having worked on the highly excellent Stealth Bastard games (or Stealth Inc for the sensitive souls at Sony) we are certainly in good hands here.
The Final Countdown
When you launch the game for the first time you are awoken on a beach by a levitating beetle and told you have been chosen to be the Sword of Ditto. You acquire the sacred sword from the nearby village in doing so attain great power. You are then lead to the tower of the evil Mormo where you are swiftly impaled by a large meat stick. Alas, this is your first death in the Swords of Ditto but I guarantee it will not be your last.
One hundred years pass and now the cycle of the game can begin proper, your new randomly generated character is awoken in their bed by the same incompetent Coleoptera and given the good news that now you are the Sword of Ditto. You trot to the local graveyard you acquire the sword for your new avatar and huzzah, the quest to rid the locals of Mormo begins anew. The rub is that each time you are born again you only have four days in which to prepare for that ultimate showdown. As you will discover, there are plenty of ways you can mess with this timetable of fate, but this will be down to you. If you are feeling brave you can just snooze your days away, like a University student blessed with glorious purpose, you will likely awake ill-prepared for the final fight.
As I wandered around the various zones I was constantly surprised how much variety there is here. Some dungeons remain locked away until you can figure out how to access them and some places remain a mystery to me even now. Once you do scurry into one of the many dungeons you will be met with a classic dungeon crawling affair. Kill the mobs, gather keys and ponder the puzzles in your path. It has to be noted that when crawling said dungeons the many elements of this game come together very nicely indeed. Your time limit is thankfully frozen while in dungeons allowing you some breathing space to enjoy the challenge. I only have one little criticism of the game world and that is the exit borders felt a little grabby from my liking and I have often being pulled into the next area at the worst moment possible.
Tools of the Trade
So in many ways this a classic roguelike, in that every time you die you must start afresh with a new character (unwitting victim) but there are some elements of your previous doings that persist. The power you have infused into the sword is passed to each successor and eventually, you will be in a position to take on Mormo in herself. Each rectangular chunk of the game world moves around upon death, so while you will start to recognises certain places (and their role) you will never know where they end up. This is obviously an attempt to keep things fresh and lets the game claim that each adventure is unique. I don’t want to be too harsh here because this kind of world generation is used a lot these days and does at least change things up a little. However, given that this is meant to be the same village you return to every hundred years I would have liked to see the actual places stay in the same location and the passage of time shown in other ways. I do like how your success and failures are reflected in the world with each successive attempt.
As you might imagine with a dungeon crawler there is plenty of loot to be had. In keeping with the cute aesthetic, you can pick up stickers which act as upgrades for various body slots. These buffs are nothing too revolutionary, more damage at night or a higher resistance to fire for example. Some will also add new attacks which can really be vital to take on some of the more crowded dungeons. You can equip up to four items for quick use, initially these are a flaming torch and a harmless (but useful) nerf gun for activating distant switches. However eventually you will find powerful items such as laser rings, assorted bombs and many cool toys to use against the challenges you face. As you play you will also pick up currency in the form of coins and treasure which in turn can be spent at the shops in the main village. Your collected wealth is also something that moves from one Sword to the next, so don't blow it all on cheeseburgers only to one-shotted by a zombie.
Once you have acquired the Sword you can obviously hack away at anything you fancy. You also get a roll which is primarily there to flank enemies but also helps get around a little faster. The combat in its most basic form is just that, however, it is well conceived and there are plenty additional elements. The environments also offer up plenty of opportunities for killing enemy goons such as pushing them into bottomless pits. Rocks can be picked up and hurled to soften up a target or you could set fire to a clearing of grass and watch it spread to the mobs in the middle.
There are a wide range of enemies gadding around the countryside, each with their own attacks and weaknesses. As you gain levels (which happens by doing away with mobs) you will see more formidable foes cropping up, which makes traversing the many areas more challenging. One detail I really liked about the combat was that enemies can damage each other which adds another way to chip away at larger groups. Drawing enemies into the trajectory of fireballs from ranged wizard for example or rolling out of the way of a crushing blow
So, unfortunately, I didn’t try one the features I was most looking forward to which is the co-op play. This is something I plan to remedy once a few friends pick up the game. Fortunately, the fine folks over at PlayStation Access did run a live stream in co-op and so I have watched this session a few times. From what I could see the fun I have had playing solo could just be the tip of the iceberg and this game is just begging to be played with a friend. Many of the dungeon puzzles have certainly been designed with two players in mind and this extra design consideration is even more impressive in an indie title. There is also the added option of being able to hug your friend back to life when one falls in battle.
So as you have probably noticed by now the visuals in Swords are bright, punchy and ridiculously cute. There is clear inspiration from the classic Zelda games but I can also see some notes from more modern titles. Imagine a more refined version of Stardew Valley with nods from the excellent Crashlands. Each scene is just covered in details and the art is pin-sharp. Sometimes when a game looks this good the animation falls down, but here we see the same high level of quality on show. From your own plucky hero to the many interesting enemy designs, each one has had plenty of hand-drawn love smothered on it. There are also plenty of nice little touches which ground your character into the environment, such as little kicks of dirt from their shoes or the way bushes rustle as you pass by. These might seem insignificant but I really do appreciate these details as they build the immersion into a beautifully realised fantasy world.
The sound design is also running on the same high standards as the visuals. There is no voice work in Swords of Ditto but then you never really expect there to be. This is an indie title and I would always rather the developers dedicate precious resources to the game's core. On the topic of sound, I have two challenges for you. The first being to spot (or hear) the musical ditty that really reminded me of the Goonies. The second is to not unconsciously hum the catchy Kazoo tune playing on the menu screen, spoilers: you will fail.
Is it PC
This is one of those games that just runs perfectly and I suspect would fair well on a smartwatch. As such the menu is very lean, in terms of graphics options you have resolution, aspect ratio and a few other basics. There is a quality setting but from what I can see this mainly affects how many shadows are cast in the game world. Bottom line is, if you are playing this game on PC you shouldn't even need to touch the settings.
As for controls, even the most hardened PC gamer like me knows when it's time to break out the old Xbox controller. For twin-stick shooters and these classic top-down adventures, there really is no better way to play than with a controller. However, if you do prefer to use mouse and keyboard you will also be well catered for.
When you first start playing The Swords of Ditto it does feel like a traditional RPG and so you start to expect quest givers around every corner. There are quests to take on but I feel like the developers decided to focus more on the games core theme and from what I can see this was a good call. I do think they missed a few tricks here which would have given the time skip mechanic more oomph, but his is not so much a criticism and more a personal wish.
In case it wasn’t obvious yet, I love The Swords of Ditto and think it certainly stands out in an increasingly crowded indie market. What we have here is a very accomplished action-RPG that hits plenty of highs and also makes me very excited about what Johnathan Biddle and his team at Onebitbeyond bring us next. Any self-respecting Zelda fan needs to check out this beautifully realised game which surprised me from start to finish.
I would like to thank Devolver Digital for providing me with an advanced review copy of this game. Devolver is fast becoming a name that gamers associate with innovation and exciting titles in the indie space. Thank you for reading my review and I hope it has helped you to make an informed choice.