The platform genre has seen many changes over the years, mostly thanks to the rise of rogue-like and extremely hardcore sub-genres. The general platform experience has largely stayed the same, but with fresh ideas arriving each month, it now takes something rather special to bring a memorable and enjoyable experience to players. Can Switch – Or Die Trying become the latest to leave a mark in the memory? Or is it something we’ll be looking to forget?
Switch – Or Die Trying brings an adventure that places you in the role of the letter ‘I’, who’s come to find itself having lost all of its alphabetical friends. The idea of the game is to travel from level-to-level in search of the rest of the alphabet, in order to make amends and put the ‘I’ back with the rest of the team.
All-in-all there are 75 levels to master, although how many you manage to get through will depend on your skill level, with the majority proving exceptionally difficult. Each are set as part of a book, with five books and 15 levels to each one. The books and the levels they hold bring a nicely varied theme into play including Beginning, Adventure, History, Science and War – after hopping on up out of bed, at the start of the game, it’s immediately off to save the future of the alphabet.
For me Switch – Or Die Trying was a surprising game. With the cartoony, child-friendly appearance that is imposed upon on the player from the very start, early vibes gave off the impression that what I was getting stuck into was a welcoming family friendly platformer. It only took a matter of minutes before I realised that what I was really about to find was a game that would induce the same amount of gamer rage as the hardcore platformer Super Meat Boy – just without all the blood. In fact when you look at the key points, it’s fair to say there was a lot of inspiration from that classic hardcore title.
It’s disappointing then that you won’t find the same level of quality in Switch – Or Die Trying and whilst the levels are all rather short in length, there were very few that lead to an exciting experience. If you possess the ability to time every action perfectly, then chances are you’d get through it all in a matter of a few hours… for me though, it was much longer than that thanks to the overbearing difficulty seen throughout.
Within each level there are three stars to obtain, should you wish to achieve the preferred excellence rating for perfecting a level. There’s one star for completing the level, one for beating the time limit and another for obtaining the collectible tear drop that can be found along the way.
For the first few levels, things are pretty simple, with basic jumping enough to get you through with plenty of time to spare. Move on a few more levels though and you’ll begin to utilise the key mechanic of the game – shape shifting. As mentioned before, you play as the letter ‘I’, and to successfully best every level there will be many times in which you are required to hit the right trigger to shift from a lower-case letter to a capital. This can be needed for a number of reasons, but for the majority it will be to make use of the extra jump that happens when you shape shift to get across to an otherwise unreachable wall or platform.
Shifting from a lower-case letter to a capital also brings a couple of notable differences with the lower-case ‘i’ proving faster and able to jump slightly further, than the slower, bigger capital ‘I’.
After the first five or so levels shape shifting will become your key tool to avoiding the many hazards placed throughout, and those involved will be generally quite different depending on the book and accompanying theme you are playing through. The ‘Beginning’ book brings a black spiky hazard for you to avoid and jump over, whilst later levels see things such as fire, lasers and traps coming into play.
There are many times in which both versions of ‘I’ will become useful. For example, you’ll want the capital if you wish to land on a ledge after jumping off a wall that is next to a hazard, as using the lower-case letter will usually push you straight into the hazard and force you to restart. Levels with spikes that encroach up the screen however will usually need the faster speed of the lower-case letter.
Besides shape shifting – or letter shifting, if you prefer – there is one other ability that is also a major tool and that’s shooting. Whilst you’ll fail to find major weaponry to help you out along the way, you can fire what seems to be tears that can activate switches within a level, and destroy specific blocks to make a path to the next area of the level. Utilising both shooting and shape shifting is the key to mastering each of the levels and other than that the only thing really stopping you from making it to the end is the difficulty.
Switch – Or Die Trying isn’t the most balanced game on the market when it comes to difficulty, and there were many times I found myself trying not to throw my controller due to how challenging things became… and that’s even on the early levels. Strangely though there are later levels in the game that give little in the way of any kind of challenge at all. Luckily you only need to complete ten of the fifteen stages within a book to move on to the next.
What makes it all the more confusing is Switch – Or Die Trying often pushes the innocent child friendly approach on things throughout, even on the unbearably difficulty levels. Each level starts with a child’s voice shouting ‘Let’s play’ whilst gaining all three stars will see that same innocent child shout ‘Excellence’.
It is this cuteness that’s impressed, along with the game’s visuals. Despite death being something you’ll come to terms with early on, there’s no blood, and no screaming. In fact, there is nothing of any sort that generally implies you’ve died. If it wasn’t for the crushing difficulty, it’s hard to see how this would be aimed towards the adult audience whatsoever.
That said, it’s not a bad thing to see a hardcore focused game arrive with such an innocent design, however it certainly doesn’t feel like it fits together all too well.
Besides the main levels, there is little else to find in Switch – Or Die Trying. There’s no story other than finding the rest of the alphabet, there are no additional game modes present and there’s nothing to really pull you back in for another go except for gunning down each of the three stars on each level. With the difficulty so high, there’s only really a select group of people who will really be all too fussed about doing that anyway.
Despite this being a game that proves to be a generally mediocre experience, one thing that is good to see are the fluid controls. In anything that looks to bring a hardcore challenge, the controls can often prove the make or break. Whilst there are only four main controls to get to grips with – A controlling the jump, X tied to shooting, RT for shape shifting and the left stick for movement – but the controls work as they are supposed to and any mistakes you make during a level are certainly down to ability rather than poor controls.
Overall and despite the clear resemblance to Super Meat Boy, Switch – Or Die Trying is a rather disappointing game that fails to match that level of quality. With no clear indication as to the audience it is ideally designed for, with the difficulty clearly too high for children and design points proving too childish for adults, monotonous gameplay throughout, and overly basic mechanics making up its key aspects, Switch – Or Die Trying is likely to be a title many will quickly forget. Although there is a story in place, the minimal dialogue is poor and with a lack of progression recognised, this feels like it’s missing many key elements to make a complete experience.