Just as soon as you’ve finished the opening tutorial in Swords of Ditto, you will die. After waking up on a beach (classic RPG trope) and being greeted by a glowing dung beetle named Puku (that’s different), you’re directed to the nearby town to retrieve a sword and become the Sword of Ditto. Turns out, the land of Ditto is visited every 100 years by an evil witch named Mormo who deigns to spread her evil over everything, and likewise every 100 years a hero rises up to put a stop to her. After teaching you the ropes, Puku the magic poop-bug’s confidence gets the best of her and she takes you to face Mormo right away… and you bite it big time. Fast forward a century and a new hero awakes, ready for another attempt at burying Mormo — albeit a little more carefully this time.
This cycle forms the backbone of the core experience of The Swords of Ditto, a ‘rogue-lite’ ,top-down action RPG where each birth of a new hero marks the beginning of a kind of ‘micro-adventure’. Each hero’s journey is the same; traverse the world, defeat enemies, explore dungeons and collect enough experience and loot to be ready to face Mormo on the fourth day of her return. Fail to defeat the evil witch, or die before getting the chance, and the cycle starts anew in a world significantly more tainted than before. Each incarnation of Ditto has a town with various facilities, fields to roam and dungeons full of devious puzzles, and everything is procedurally generated each time a new story begins. Making the most of your three days before the final showdown involves travelling to a handful of primary dungeons to collect useful equipment and destroy ‘anchors’ that are the source of Mormo’s power. Defeating Mormo without destroying the anchors is technically possible but definitely not within the average player’s grasp, so careful management of time and the game’s most useful mechanics is key to succeeding.
You’ve done whale to get this far without being krill-ed
The Swords of Ditto plays pretty closely to something like A Link to the Past, feeling as much like an homage to that game as it could be without entering ‘clone’ territory. Combat is a simple affair consisting mostly of an attack and a dodge-roll, but it’s fast and fun, and subtle nuances start to show as time goes on such as using fire to light nearby grass and damage enemies. You’ll also start to earn gadgets that serve a dual purpose as both tools with which to solve puzzles and as weapons. As with the games that it riffs on, The Swords of Ditto is at its best when crawling its expansive dungeons, fighting off waves of baddies and solving some truly clever puzzles using your ever-growing arsenal. Time freezes in dungeons too, which makes them great fun to thoroughly explore without fear of wasting precious time. The fear of permanent death is still a very real thing at all times, of course. If you kick the bucket, all of your belongings are lost save for your sword (which keeps its experience level) and your cash, both of which your eventual successor will pilfer from your grave.
Putting my golf skills to good use
Eventually, new mechanics open up that will allow the game’s rules to be bent slightly to extend time or pass more down upon death, but it’s left to the player to discover these organically. Once these mechanics come into play, each successful (or unsuccessful) run feels like a step closer to breaking Mormo’s cycle for good, but until that point it can be pretty frustrating to have to start completely fresh with each new hero. The issue is that while some players might figure everything out on the first or second go-around, thanks to the game’s RNG and lack of hand-holding it might take a handful of fruitless three-to-four-hour journeys before others get there. That’s a small complaint in the grand scheme of things, though, because The Swords of Ditto is a whole lot of fun throughout. Two players can take on the adventure together in local co-op as well, which is a very welcome addition that almost makes the cyclical meta-game feel superfluous next to the simple idea of playing through an ‘entire’ RPG with a mate in the space of an afternoon.
Welcome, I have many mew things available to purr-chase
The Swords of Ditto’s biggest triumph is its presentation, taking on a very Saturday-morning-cartoon look with design and lore very obviously inspired by the likes of Adventure Time. A friendly and child-like aesthetic permeates most of the game, with bright and bouncy characters and lush, lovingly animated locales. Tools and equipment come in the form of ‘toys’ and ‘stickers’, and the writing is chock-full of humour ranging from groan-inducing puns to some truly sharp one-liners. Much like Adventure Time, all of this whimsy belies a deeper underbelly that isn’t revealed from the outset. Instead, devoted players will discover the history of Ditto themselves over time and start to learn about its dark and intriguing past on their own, adding a much needed motivator for those committed to seeking the game’s true ending. The cyclical nature of the game does nearly undermine the experience again here, though, as each new adventure follows a nearly identical story format with the exact same dialogue in major scenes. It’s likely a necessary evil for a small team working on something of this nature, but it’s jarring when the world is generated anew with each run but the main characters continue to say the same things every time.
The Swords of Ditto manages to take numerous inspirations from video games and pop culture and shape them into something all its own without ever feeling derivative. The game’s core gimmick comes close to being its undoing but great feeling gameplay and superb presentation ensure it’s always an absolute blast, whether embarking on a casual adventure with a friend or putting in the hard hours to save the world of Ditto for good.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro | Review code supplied by publisher