Similar to Super Meat Boy’s intro menu screen, Mighty Switch Force bursts with energy that just screams “PLAY ME!” As cybernetic cop Officer Patricia Wagon, you’re tasked with tracking down the five escaped Hooligan Sisters in each incident (AKA a level). What makes the game unique is the “Switch Force” ability, which allows you to shift specific blocks in and out from the background at any time.
Mighty Switch Force has a Metroid-esque vibe to it: a futuristic 2D side-scroller starring a female protagonist donned in armor that shoots energy and jumps unrealistically high. There's even one more similarity that I won’t spoil, but you’ll know it when you see it. Considering how well the Metroidvania formula works, albeit without power-ups being necessary in this case, I think it was an excellent choice for inspiration by the developers to combine with the new and unique switching mechanic.
The 3D capabilities of the 3DS are used when switch blocks go in and out from the background. For those of you that turn off the 3D slider, the switch blocks also turn transparent. If a block comes into the foreground while an enemy or even the player is there, it will smash that character against the screen, temporarily “shattering” the screen. Often, the switch blocks are used in platforming sequences, where a quick press of the switch button is needed to alternate blocks while you're in mid-air. And for crying out loud, use the easier L or R buttons to switch with as I learned while desperately switching between the A & B buttons during jumps for the first four hours of play.
In addition to the standard blocks, you’ll also encounter launch blocks and lock blocks. The former will launch whatever is in front of it during a switch. Frequently, you'll have to traverse a sequence of launch blocks with timing that becomes trickier as the distances between them shorten. On occasion, launch blocks are put in do-or-die situations where missing one means spiky death. Fortunately, if you passed by the "Ugly Checkpoint Dog," he'll have marked his spot for you to restart from.
The other remaining block, Lock blocks, lock into place if you stand on them while switching. This changes when they alternate with the regular switch blocks. You'll have to think your way through lock block puzzles and decide which and when lock blocks activate to get through to a Hooligan Sister. The levels that have these blocks add a welcome layer of complexity without slowing the pace of the game too much since the puzzles involving them are usually limited to a small area.
Most of the time, the level design is non-linear or at least requires you to double-back. At first, I found myself circling tougher levels with nary a collected Hooligan Sister, but once I became used to the game’s structure, there was less running around. The non-linear nature really helps with the puzzle dynamic of the game considering it’s essentially about getting to five different points (to rescue the sisters), plus an extraction point. While the last level is entirely linear, it’s the most memorable thanks to a twist that creates some frantic action.
Although I zoomed through the first half of the game, the difficulty ramped up considerably in the second half. I was reminded of chess as some levels were designed in such a way that I had to focus on offense and defense at the same time to stay alive. Just as I was focused on the upcoming blocks I had to switch off, I’d be smacked into the screen by a block that was switched back on in the process. Other times, you may have to help a bomb-enemy walk along a series of switching blocks while making sure you don’t get crushed in the process as you follow along another path. It definitely shows how a simple idea can yield a ton of depth if executed well.
Although the first half of the game is pretty easy, that’s true only the first time around. Coming back to achieve the “par time” on each incident easily triples the playtime of Mighty Switch Force. Incidentally, I recommend that you come back for par times after finishing all the levels - hint hint, nudge nudge. While striving for par, the enemies that roam the world almost become an afterthought, like when racing through a level in Goldeneye to unlock a cheat code.
Mighty Switch Force’s simple but effective gameplay premise along with oodles of polish, heart and tons of small touches really push it the extra mile. Touches such as each Hooligan Sister looking unique, or the slight backward movement caused by the recoil of a powerful weapon, or Patricia Wagon holding up her pistol briefly after firing before putting it down, or the fact that she winds down after a hard day’s work by relaxing in a hot tub with her robot extractor. The list goes on.
Looks can be deceiving and what one may assume to be a small, downloadable game is actually a very complete package. The lively graphics, unique gameplay, and excellent soundtrack all mesh together superbly to create a bouncy and enthusiastic experience. Portal proved that a game doesn’t have to be really long to be enjoyable and Mighty Switch Force has kept my interest longer than many disc based games at this point. Don’t miss out on this fantastic eShop title if you have the chance.
Developer: WayForward Technologies
Genre: Shooter, Platformer, Action
Release: December 1, 2011
Available On: 3DSWare
Super Metroid: Loved until I lost my save after defeating Ridley.
Mega Man: Loved except its switching block platforming.
Metroid Fusion: Woooooooo.