Price: $5.99 / £5.00
So, E3 was a fun time this year, huh? I’m going to throw a few words together here that will blow your minds: Nintendo; E3; controversial. I bet you’ve never seen those three things in the same sentence before..! Regardless of your own personal reaction to Nintendo’s June 11th Direct (and there were certainly very mixed reactions right here at TNE) it’s undeniable that there was a great deal of fallout amongst Nintendo fans – and the larger gaming community with respect to Sony and Microsoft’s conferences – and a lot of time and energy was expended on “discussing” the bombs that Iwata dropped / didn’t drop, and poring over the finer details of the whole glorious event / sorry ordeal.
Not so much time spent playing videogames, no.
I tend to see it, then, as hilariously bad decision making on the part of WayForward to release one of the best games on the 3DS eshop just two days after the opening of E3. Maybe that’s a little unfair, maybe the timing was beyond their control, but I for one was completely unaware of the game’s existence until I was asked to review it for TNE. And that’s coming from a big fan of Mighty Switch Force.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the series, Mighty Switch Force is a stylish 2d puzzle-platformer which involves running, jumping, shooting, and most importantly, switching. You don’t need to have played the first one to appreciate the second, but I would still advise it because the sequel brings with it a certain amount of complexity that can make the first game seem a little shallow by comparison if you play them in reverse order. This is actually a crucial factor that makes this game such a great sequel – you certainly do get more of the same great stuff that you loved from the first game, but on top of that you will be treated to a handful of new elements that will keep things fresh and interesting.
So what is new here then? Well, protagonist Patricia Wagon is no longer a cop, but now a fire fighter, and as such, is no longer equipped with a Megaman-style blaster, but a super-powered fire hose. This brings about the most fundamental change in the gameplay as you have to reprogram the way you think about using the gun. Just as a light squeeze on a ketchup bottle will deposit a perfect blob of tomato sauce on the side of your plate, a quick tap of the Y button will sprinkle a little water at Patty’s feet. Squeeze that ketchup bottle much harder to make a gooey red mess of your kitchen, or alternatively hold down the Y button for longer to increase the water pressure and douse enemies on the other side of the screen. I can’t tell you how many times in the early going I got stuck with a small flame right next to me while I jetted water clean over the top of it. The trick is to let go of the button! Incidentally, it’s this kind of game mechanic that makes me pine for pressure-sensitive buttons. Remember Super Mario Sunshine? Exactly.
This game also seems to be a lot more puzzle-oriented than its predecessor: the levels are certainly a lot more convoluted in general, with a few of them taking me well over 10 minutes at the first attempt. Beating the par times for each level is just as challenging as ever, but this game also features a different kind of challenge in seeking out and rescuing the Ugly Secret Babies (yes that is their official name). There’s one per level and they are roughly analogous to the star coins in New Super Mario Bros. in that they’re harder to find and rescue [collect] than the reformed Hooligan Sisters. The difficulty level of the switching puzzles has also increased somewhat, thanks to the inclusion of new pipe-like blocks and a third colour variation of the lockable blocks. There is a lot of head-scratching to be had, and a lot of lateral thinking required, when playing this game.
Speaking of the switching mechanic, and I know that Mighty Switch Force HD on the Wii U gives the lie to what I’m about to say, but I really think you need to play this game in 3D. It just makes such great use of the 3DS’ functionality. Blocks in the background are very obviously in the background. Tap the L button to bring them forward into the same plane of existence as your heroine and she can jump on them and use them in various other ways (baiting an enemy into wandering in front of a block and then bringing it forward to smash him into the screen of the 3DS never gets old). It looks fantastic – a 2d sidescroller with clearly and cleanly delineated foreground and background planes.
Actually, the whole game looks pretty fantastic; WayForward certainly have a talent for gorgeous hand drawn 2d sprites, as evidenced by Shantae: Risky’s Revenge (DSiWare), A Boy and His Blob (Wii), and Aliens Infestation (DS) to name but a few. The characters are all beautifully animated with charm and humour, the backgrounds look great with plenty of attention to detail, and the effect that sees fiery embers floating up and apparently out of the screen is stunning. All aspects of the game’s presentation work very well together to form a cohesive style; the cutesiness of the main characters’ visual representations is mirrored perfectly in the few snippets of voice work from Patty. The first game’s adorable “Stop in the name of the law!” and “Justice served!” have been replaced by the even more adorable “Sure is toasty!” and “No-one’s left behind!”
The music also fits very well, with some great remixes from the first game and plenty of high tempo electronic stuff that really helps to get you in the mood for speedrunning and reaching some of those very demanding par times.
The last thing I want to talk about with regards to this game is actually something that I really don’t want to talk about, because I personally see it as something which is wholly and completely irrelevant. However, I know that a lot of people put a lot of importance on the issue of game length so it would be remiss of me to omit the following: Mighty Switch Force 2 is a short game. It’s a really short game. You could download it at midday, and be watching the credits roll by about one-thirty. Yes, you can see everything this game has to offer in well under two hours. The quest to rescue all of the babies and beat all of the par times will add another few hours to the play time, but by then you really will have seen and done everything it’s possible to see and do in this game.
I don’t have the time or space here to explain exactly why I think it would be stupid to mark the game down for its short running time (I feel a feature article coming on), but suffice it to say that every minute of the few hours that I spent with the game was filled with some of the highest quality puzzling and platforming to be found on the 3DS. Two more things to bear in mind when considering this issue are: (a) the series’ previous record with free DLC expansions and (b) the effectively infinite replayability for speedrunning purposes. Trying to knock another half-second off your best time for a level can be quite an addictive pursuit in itself. I imagine that the inclusion of online leaderboards would probably have helped a lot with that second point, but we can’t have it all, can we?
A great sequel to a great game; Mighty Switch Force 2 does just about everything that a sequel should do. If, like me, you missed this game in the post-E3 societal breakdown, you should know that there is never a bad time to download a sensibly-priced, short and sweet slice of pure 2d escapism.