Dungeon crawling, monster slaying, and obsessive sticker collecting all take centre stage in Onebitbeyond's charming new action RPG The Swords of Ditto. Pretty on the outside and incredibly challenging at times, the title mixes roguelike and classic adventure elements whilst sprinkling in its own sense of childhood adventure.
Spat out by the ocean and washed up on a beach, you are awoken by Puku, a mystical dung beetle who guides you to the shrine of the mighty sword of ditto. After removing the sword from its resting place, you unwittingly inherit its power and must slay the evil witch Mormo who rises to curse the land of Ditto every century. With just four days to go until the prophesised showdown, you must prepare for battle: gathering better gear and improving your strength. This tale of evil witches and legendary swords just about covers every classic adventure game trope but fortunately, the story is one of the few places The Swords of Ditto feels uninspired.
A Link to the Past meets Rogue Legacy is perhaps the best way to summarise The Swords of Ditto's gameplay. By that we mean there's Zelda-esque dungeon crawling and swordplay and in a similar vein to Rogue Legacy there's permadeath, but your progress is carried over. Mastering the intricate timings of sword strokes and dodge rolls is integral to surviving combat, especially within the many confined dungeons. Enemy variety is also great here and changes constantly depending on your current level. In one area you might be fighting floating brains, googly-eyed rocks, and vomit-spewing zombies, for instance, and each has their own attack pattern and will often work cooperatively.
Weapons in The Swords of Ditto are known as toys and tie in well with the theme of embarking on an adventure as a child. There's a giant gorilla foot that can crush enemies, a drone that can be triggered to explode, and of course a magical golf club, just to name a few, and all of these can be equipped with stickers, which can be used to add buffs and improve your elemental resistance and can also be stuck to you as well. These also share a similar theme to the weapons and two of our favourites that we equipped early on were shaped like an eagles claw and a wrestling belt. Expanding your options even further is the chance to combine the effects of three stickers by visiting the wonderfully named Ock the octopus.
As we mentioned earlier, permadeath is present and once you die you'll start 100 years later removing the sword from the grave of the character who has just fallen. Fortunately, you do get to keep your current level and XP but your entire inventory including toys and stickers will be lost. When you start again the overworld is randomly generated in layout and buildings and landmarks appear cracked and broken to reflect that century has passed by. It did feel a little tedious to grind for gear every time we started over but we loved how the world around us kept evolving.
Outside of your quest to defeat Mormo there are fortunately plenty more distractions to keep you invested. There are washed up crates you can open at a nearby lighthouse, randomised dungeons you can explore, and wacky side quests like finding a penguin's lost children, although the dungeons were easily the most enjoyable of these. We took every opportunity we could to venture into them for hidden goodies, and what's more is that each dungeon has its own specific rule like increasing the power of fire, for example, and the trap placement and puzzles are randomly generated each time.
Two-player local co-op is available and we would certainly recommend it for anyone playing beyond 'relaxed' difficulty. When we played solo we kept getting slaughtered by the boss in the first toy dungeon and having a friend there helped to take off the heat. It also prevents permadeath from occurring as a friend can hug you when downed to revive you by sacrificing half of their health. Much like the recent Secret of Mana remake though, online multiplayer is absent, meaning that you will need a second controller and a friend present to journey together.
The Swords of Ditto is downright gorgeous with a cartoonish look that closely resembles Adventure Time. It rivals Cuphead as having some of the finest hand-drawn visuals we've seen in a game and its bright colour palette makes everything pop and feel alive. We loved how its visuals really help to nail its personality of being a child's adventure and this is further reflected through silly things like the weapons being known as toys and how you have doughnuts and milk as a health source. The only issue that we experienced on the performance side of things is that there was some occasional stuttering when moving between dialogue and gameplay. Developer Onebitbeyond has confirmed though that a day one patch will be coming to address certain problems.
The Swords of Ditto is a solid action RPG that is wrapped up in some of the finest hand-drawn visuals we have seen to date. We loved its silly sense of personality introduced with its sticker collecting and toy weapons and the way it handled the crushing element of permadeath felt fresh. It can feel punishing at times if you don't bring a friend along and its narrative does encompass many genre cliches but that still doesn't hold The Swords of Ditto back from being one of the finest couch co-op games we've experienced so far in 2018.