Back in the primordial days of video games, the graphics were simple and so was the hardware. Nowadays the Xbox controller serves as the benchmark of an ergonomically efficient masterpiece in game controller design, with triggers, bumpers, sticks, d-pads, and whatever else (there’s more finicky buttons if you decide to get the Elite controller). Back in the seminal years of gaming, however, things were much for simplified and for many nostalgic gamers that’s exactly how they loved it. Too many buttons do get a bit confusing sometimes, and so having a single joystick and a single button gets the job done in some cases.
The Atari 2600 still holds a place in the hearts of gamers, because it made use of its limited hardware to deliver addictively endearing and enjoyable arcade games, no superficial bells or whistles. Switch ‘N’ Shoot is a retro style shooter hearkening back to the days when all you needed was a joystick and a button, but this release by creator Matt Glanville takes it one step further by making use of just one button.
Now the game states you simply need to use one button, but it doesn’t specify which one, and that’s because Switch ‘N’ Shoot allows you to use any button on the Xbox One controller for the sole designated function. Regardless of what you press on the game pad, it will perform the same function: shoot and switch. Each time a button is pressed, the ship fires a shot but at the same time it will strafe left or right (alternating with each press). That’s all there is to it really, and it sounds simple enough on paper, but the execution within the game design makes it one of those deceptively simple things.
As a shooter Switch ‘N’ Shoot moves rather quickly on rails, with enemies and power-ups coming in fast right out of the gate. It’s not enough to simply shoot enemies, because each time you do the ship changes its position and this can make things rather tricky. Players stepping into the game for the first time can expect to lose within seconds of starting a run, and lose again and again. It is initially frustrating, but since it happens so quickly you can’t help but hit that retry button right away. It’s about landing the right shot at the right time, while making sure the ship is positioned to avoid the next enemy. It’s a fine balancing act demanding razor-sharp precision, and even by Atari 2600 gaming standards this can feel rather onerous and frustrating. It’s certainly not going to be a game that players will get comfortable with after a few tries, and so a bit of training and dedication is needed to be even reasonably good at it.
There is a clever way to make things relatively easier, because given how Switch ‘N’ Shoot doesn’t forcibly prescribe a button to use, players are free to use whichever button on the controller feels most comfortable at the time. The other trick is using at least two different buttons to alternate, as ergonomically it helps to pace the shooting and switching a little more comfortably. The key thing is to try to experiment with the play style, even if it means holding the Xbox One controller in awkward ways.
The presentation is reminiscent of Atari 2600 arcade games, with simple graphics and defined colours, but what’s cool about the presentation is the arcade cabinet artwork serving a throwback to some of the classic ‘80s arcade hits. The artwork serves as side banners on the screen, and is a nice little touch to help set the theme. The sound effects are basic beeps and boops gamers were tuning into during the early ‘80s.
Switch ‘N’ Shoot on Xbox One is a neat idea and for the most part the single button premise and design has appeal and replay value, but in order to get used to the mechanic and pace, it does demand a considerable amount of effort. And so, unless you’re a seasoned veteran looking for a clever take on an Atari 2600 classic, then there’s really not much here to encourage players to stick around for the long term.