Many game developers create derivative retro style experiences, but those who manage to create retro inspired games in a completely new light can’t even be counted on one hand. WayForward is arguably the seminal developer when it comes to creating modern retro gaming experiences which look, feel, and play like they belong in our time rather than from two or three decades ago.
Having formed in the early ‘90s, WayForward released a few games which were quite unceremonious, and it wasn’t until 2002 when they created the original Shantae for Game Boy Color that they finally found their niche and identity. The aforementioned Shantae has become one of the biggest franchises in modern gaming, and is currently awaiting its fifth instalment. Over the past couple of decades though, WayForward has pushed itself to create inventive titles, whether they are based on existing IPs (such as Contra 4 and the upcoming River City entry titled River City Girls) or completely original works among which included Mighty Switch Force!.
First landing on the Nintendo 3DS in 2011, this title became a popular eShop download overnight, warranting sequels on the 3DS, Wii U, and even PC. To commemorate nearly ten years since the release of the original, WayFoward have released Mighty Switch Force! Collection which comes with the original Mighty Switch Force!, Mighty Switch Force! 2, Mighty Switch Force! Hyper Drive Edition, and the relatively obscure and off-kilter, Mighty Switch Force! Academy.
Retro compilations in gaming have come a very long way, and in the last few years we have seen developers almost overachieve in preserving and presenting their classic catalogue on modern gaming systems. The likes of Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection, SNK 40th Anniversary Collection, SEGA Mega Drive Classics, and even the recent slew of Konami Anniversary Collections have all gone above and beyond simply emulating old ROM files. These collections are not only carefully curated, but the games are ported and remastered to include new features such as gameplay rewind/forward, all while offering a wealth of museum content – a lot of which include developmental material never seen before – which can take hours to explore before even getting to the games. In this regard, Mighty Switch Force! Collection is highly disappointing as it offers nothing more besides the games in the main menu. The presentation is practically non-existent, with basic menu presentation and a complete absence of materials which could have been a great opportunity for WayForward to share the history and process behind the series. The artwork and music collection behind these games certainly would have been worthwhile too, but there’s nothing of that sort here; it is as basic and pragmatic as retro compilations come.
Disappointing presentation and a lack of non-gameplay content aside, it doesn’t change the fact that this collection features an enjoyable selection of puzzle platformers, each offering a ton of great levels to play in bite-sized chunks with heaps of replay value. The games all share a similar gameplay premise where players take control of an officer named Patricia who has to find a certain number of people in a given stage, before heading for the exit. There are enemies and other hazards along the way, and so Patricia is able to run and shoot, bound by limited lives.
The other key gameplay hook which lends to the puzzle platformer design is the use of her siren-helmet to manipulate and switch platforms (hence the name Switch Force). Patricia needs to manipulate platforms in different ways, mostly by switching them in and out to gain access to areas. This is a simple and yet effectively implemented gameplay mechanic which lends itself extremely well to the many, many progressively inventive levels. For those you who have been around for a while, Mighty Switch Force! games feel like a combination of Shinobi (arcade) and Mega Man with the added twist of puzzle platforming using platform manipulation. There are a lot of levels to work through, and given their origin on handheld systems these games are great for short bursts of casual, yet challenging, gameplay.
The original Mighty Switch Force! has Patricia as a police officer in search of escaped convicts in each of the short but inventive levels. Mighty Switch Force! 2 sees Patricia make a career change to firefighting, as instead of a gun she now has a hose to help her extinguish fires and rescue citizens. Mighty Switch Force! Hyper Drive Edition is basically an enhanced edition of the original and was released for Wii U. It certainly is puzzling to see this featured as a separate game in the collection, given that it is basically the same game as the 3DS original aside from the new HD sprites – yep, the pixel art is still strong. Finally, Mighty Switch Force! Academy largely retains the gameplay style of the other games, but presents levels as one large map where the character sprites are practically microscopic. It can be extremely difficult to play as later levels get more crowded, but this zoomed-out perspective was designed for 4-player couch multiplayer in mind, and in this regard Academy can result in a very fun afternoon with friends and family.
Visually these games all keep their original style, but they have been scaled and optimised quite nicely for larger screens and so the pixels never look blown-out. It’s quite cool to play 3DS games on Xbox One in 2019, and this is perhaps where the Mighty Switch Force! Hyper Drive Edition shines more as a Wii U game running on Xbox One with its HD-ready assets. The art style is quite cute and colourful, and while the visual presentation is kept simple for the most part, the soundtrack has an upbeat rhythm to it which adds a lot to the gameplay enjoyment. Given the charming style, it’s a shame there are no galleries or soundtracks for players to explore in this collection.
Mighty Switch Force! Collection on Xbox One provides WayForward’s most exemplar IP all in one place, and while it might be missing an iOS spin-off or two, the main titles are intact. It provides a clean puzzle platforming experience in each of its inventive levels – of which there are many – and they’re all worth coming back to, especially for those in pursuit of the best times. These are enjoyable games for anyone looking for an instantly appealing platformer with great control and intuitively clever gameplay ideas, and brings together what is undoubtedly WayForward’s defining IP alongside Shantae.