I’ll be the first to admit that the sales pitch for Swords of Ditto sounds exhausting: What if The Legend of Zelda was a Roguelike game? If you spend any real time in the video gaming space, you’ve heard some variant on that pitch before – a classic Nintendo game paired with a trendy game style. But once in a while, it actually works, as is the case with One Bit Beyond’s Swords of Ditto, a game that wears its inspirations on its sleeve but manages to feel like more than just buzzwords stapled together and uploaded to Steam, and a lot of that hinges on the game’s incredible art.
One of the biggest fears I have in a Roguelike or Roguelite game is repetition. These games require you to start over from scratch or close to it each time you boot up, and expect you to play them over and over again. When your game is procedurally generated as is the standard with the genre, it can be easy to let the world make itself and not worry about the art. The game is what’s important, right? But that reliance on procedural worlds shortened the life of No Man’s Sky and killed Strafe before it even made it out of the dungeon.
Swords of Ditto, on the other hand, is enchanting. It’s Zelda by way of Adventure Time. The team at One Bit Beyond wanted to evoke The Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past specifically, which somewhat constrained the perspectives they could use. That overhead camera is part of what makes Link to the Past what it is. But the team infused that perspective with a visual style that feels like pure eye-candy. It’s sweet and vibrant. Characters, animals, and even buildings smile, sometimes literally.
Even the randomly-generated characters look good enough that they often feel bespoke. Each time you start up a fresh run, Ditto generates a new hero for you to play as. Your gender and race are randomized. You might even be a rat person, a cat person (a person who is a cat, not a person who likes cats), or a cuboid-headed robot complete with a blinking light on top. If you think that last one is my absolute favorite, you’d be dead on.
Just existing in this world, running around it and exploring it stays fun for a long time. It’s a reminder, not entirely unlike Horizon Zero Dawn, that the end of the world doesn’t have to look like a scene from Batman v Superman.
The Kiddie Pool
What Ditto has in charm and visual panache, though, it lacks in depth. There’s plenty to do and collect in Swords of Ditto, between upgrading your sword and collecting funds for your next run through the world (two of the few things that actually carry over). Through that time, though, you’re constantly fighting monsters as you make your way across the map. They’re just as cute and charming as the hero and good characters, but they’re not very interesting to fight. Your character has no block button, and most of the enemies can be taken down by just smacking them with the titular sword a bunch of times. You can get other items to do that, but the game doesn’t incentivize it.
This is perhaps worst when it comes to the game’s few boss fights.
Each run-through has a few major dungeons that have you first acquiring a special item and then going to a second dungeon to use that item. These dungeons are technically optional, but they make the end boss a lot easier, so it’s worth the time to get in. But while the dungeon itself might force you to use that new item, the boss at the end of the dungeon and nothing that follows make use of that item. Once you’re out of the dungeon, you can put it away.
Now, this is partly the game’s design. These dungeons are, again, strictly optional, so it would be tough for the game to require you to pick those items up. But the end result is that it feels like the game can’t plan for anything except your sword, and because of that combat can get pretty stale. Exploring the world and unlocking its mysteries is the real fun.
A note about multiplayer
If you have a friend, spouse, or gaming-ready child around who digs on a bit of simple fun, getting the 2-player local coop going is simple and largely mitigates the monotony of the combat and makes exploration feel that much better. It’s simple jump-in, jump-out cooperative play, and absolutely worth the time if you have someone around to play it with. The coop play is local only, but it’s a blast.
Just let me play already!
The other big issue with Swords of Ditto is all the ways it gets in the way of letting you play it. Roguelike and Roguelite games are meant to be fast games, and that should the fewest interstitial interruptions. But Swords of Ditto is rife with such interruptions.
Each time you start a fresh game, a dung beetle (because poop is funny) appears to tell your new character that they’re the fabled Sword of Ditto, ordained by destiny to take down the evil Mormo. You have to travel from your house to the graveyard to pick up your sword, which can take a couple minutes. In Roguelike time, that’s an eternity. And then, this beetle will pop up after each dungeon to say the same thing to your character in these unskippable dialogue boxes. It’s only a couple runs through before you’re yelling “C’mon, yeah yeah, shut up already” at the screen.
Similarly, picking up gold is a huge hassle – as it stands right now, you have to pick it up after it stops moving, which is long after you would’ve run away and onto the next beast or next screen. I don’t want to rag on it too much, but it’s seriously annoying and affects the moment to moment gameplay.
Finally, the way leveling in the game works hampers the overall pacing. Ditto is a timed game, with just a few in-game days to power up and get ready for your fight with the end boss, Mormo. The enemies level up with you, though, so it’s not about power so much as gating you. Getting into the aforementioned dungeons requires that you hit a certain level. This wasn’t always a problem for me, but it was one often enough that it made me roll my eyes a few times.
All of these get in the way of me moving through the game as quickly as the game’s very concept seems to promise.
Despite these issues, I ended up dumping an entire day’s worth of time into the game before I felt like I’d had enough – about 24 hours. For a $20 game, that’s not too bad, and Ditto is definitely one of the very cutest games of 2018. The art alone is worth checking Swords of Ditto out.
DISCLAIMER: We received a review code for PC from the publisher and played about 24 hours of the game before writing this review.