Indie Wonderland: The Swords Of Ditto

One Bit Beyond‘s The Swords Of Ditto rather unceremoniously exploded onto my Twitter feed a few weeks ago. I hadn’t heard anything about it before that, but then, you might know that I don’t actually follow games news all that closely — either way, it came as a surprise. But a pleasant surprise: From screenshots, The Swords Of Ditto looks engaging and colourful, and from early discussion, it seemed to center around an interesting procedural gameplay system: ‘If your hero dies before defeating the dark lord, the next hero of prophecy has to deal with the consequences’. It was enough to get me to pick it up, and as such, here we are.

(Spoiler levels: Narrative, somewhat high. Mechanical, medium.)

(Game source: Patreon funds.)

Opening

The Swords Of Ditto definitely makes a strong first impression. As the sun rises over a brightly-coloured cartoon-styled town, a kazoo heralds an upbeat, energetic intro song. The type of music that makes you want to go out and hero, and that makes you want to use hero as a verb.

Is there a name for this style of animation? It’s not quite cel-shaded; it reminds me a lot of our contemporary crop of cartoons.

Options, as I’m wont to look at, are limited, but fair. Resolutions, audio sliders, framerate, nothing that would necessarily confuse small children. A series of languages. Three difficulty settings. There are rebindable keyboard controls, but also options that suggest the use of a controller (a vibration setting is always a good giveaway), so that’s how I decide to move forward.

Sorry, player-specific keyboard binds. Better luck next time.

And that, as they say, is that for the opening. I kick off a New Game, am asked to pick a difficulty setting — I’d already done that in the Options menu, but I appreciate the game double-checking, and then…

Initial impressions

…I wake up.

Ah. So we’re going for an anime protagonist vibe here, huh.

On the beach.

Granted, I didn’t necessarily see this coming.

I have about three seconds to try and parse whatever’s happening here before a giant spectral dung beetle appears in the air beside me.

“Can I request a different beach to wake up on?”

In the exact order listed here, the following things happen: The dung beetle tells me to go get the sword. The dung beetle apologizes. The dung beetle introduces itself as Puku. Puku tells me to get to the town. Puku disappears. End of cutscene; I am now in control.

You might at this point be tempted to say that I didn’t actually get a whole lot of introduction, or tutorial, or character motivation, and that by rights I should have no idea what I’m doing or what’s expected of me. But oh ye of little faith, have ye no trust in this video game? For my better guidance and explanation, a glowing sword appears in one corner of the screen!

Can you see the glowing sword? Of course you can: If this is going to be the game’s tutorial, it’d be silly if the sword that literally points in the direction of progress were small and easy to miss against the colourful background.

I run around the beach for a little bit, using the left analog stick for movement. There’s driftwood here, and ‘small’ birds that fly away as I get close. I also find a lighthouse, with a sign, and an inviting door, but Puku yells at me as I try to get close. Follow the glowing sword first! Which, fair.

I walk off the edge of the beach and transition into a new map: A neat hilly grassland with an overgrown fountain at the center. But the sword points ever-upward, so I move up again, and find myself in…

Scenic Dittonley-By-The-Sea.

Hey, a town! It’s got people in it! Maybe these people can tell me where I am, or who I am, or what’s going on, or if floating spectral beetles are common here.

Or maybe they can talk about pointless nonsense!

Listen, that’s fascinating and all, BUT

At Puku’s suggestion, I run up to the heroic-looking statue in the center of town. It’s bathed in light, looking grand and triumphant. And there’s a small sword plunged in the stone of the base. I pick up the sword, and as triumphant music plays, I transform into a superhero.

Rather a specific one, if you don’t mind me making the observation.

Puku shows up again, happy as can be. “Guess it’s time I explained a few things, huh?” Which, er, yeah.

Here’s the gist: I’m in the land of Ditto. Every hundred years to the dot, the evil with Mormo shows up to plunge the land into darkness and general malaise. To oppose Mormo, one human in a hundred years is chosen to become that generation’s Sword Of Ditto, a mystical hero destined to fight Mormo and stop her evil schemes. As luck would have it, today is the day of Mormo’s rise, which makes it all the more serendipitous that I just now washed up on shore.

In fairness, the game does lampshade this.

Puku offers to show me to Mormo’s palace, which I graciously appreciate; the sooner we get this nonsense over with, the better. This involves a short bit of travel, which is to say, the evil witch’s evil palace is literally right next-door from the town.

Mormo does know how to design an evil castle, I’ll give them that.

“Mormo Palace”, The Swords Of Ditto pops on-screen in a large title overlay, “level 1”. I make my way up to the main entrance, practicing my sword swings all the way. Puku hasn’t told me much, but I’m an adventuring savant: Hitting A allows me to activate things. The X button slashes my sword, up to three times in a simple combo. B lets me roll. And a UI element in the top left suggests that I can use the D-Pad to map one of three items to Y: A torch, a bow, or a small set of bombs. Very adventure-chique, all in all.

Never leave home without a base level of monster fighting gear, that’s what Poppa Sword used to say.

Floating beasties infest the courtyard, so I practice my swording and rolling skills by killing them all without taking a single hit. Yeah, go me. I… think these creatures might not actually be able to hit back? But whatever, listen: I’m cool. So cool, in fact, that the crystal spires blocking the door crawl back into the ground as I kill the last creature. And then I’m inside!

Good decor for an evil tower. Appreciate the free helmet, which I can pick up and throw but never wear.

I make my way up Mormo’s tower. There are some pots to break, some easy traps to avoid, some simple monsters to kill — including one honest-to-goodness skeleton warrior, who could maybe conceivably attack me at some future point! Luckily, my damage-dodging roll skills are on point.

PLOT TWIST: I’m descended from Samus Aran.

And before I know it, I’m face-to-face with Mormo.

Things move quickly. There’s some banter between Mormo and Puku, suggesting that the two know each other — there might be some bad blood, on account of that whole Eternal Destiny thing. Mormo then notices that I, as the Sword, am way early — there are supposed to be 5 days between the awakening of the Sword and the fated final battle. She suggests this means I’m underpowered, and threatens to kill me on the spot. Then she kills me on the spot.

With my last breath, I leave Puku a bald Yelp review.

I die, and with that, Mormo wins our fated engagement. She’s free to spread her tendrils of darkness across the land and oppress the people of Ditto at her leisure, at least until the time a new Sword arises to try and stop her. Wait, how long did that take again?

Okay, this seems bad, but — maybe being oppressed by an incarnation of magical darkness is *fun*?

A rather similar scene plays out. Puku appears before a poor unknowing soul sleeping soundly in her bed — which at least is an upgrade — and guides them to the magical sword. Which, this time, isn’t so much ‘proudly displayed in the town square’ as it is ‘chucked in the previous Sword’s ignoble grave’. There isn’t even a statue to the old Sword in Dittoa, the town I run through. But the sword is there, and transform into the Sword of Ditto I do do. Do dooooo.

This time around, Puku is a little more thorough in their explanation. The aforementioned five days are actually mentioned this time: I have 120 hours to gather power and strike at Mormo’s support network before we’re supposed to fight. Puku’s even kind enough to introduce me to the ‘Swordkeeper’, an old turtle historian tasked with guiding the Sword on their journey. Would have been handy last time, bug. Togo, because the people in this world enjoy their vowel-repeating names, explains what I’m supposed to do a little further: Mormo has two magical ‘anchors’ hidden around the land. If I can find and destroy those anchors, it’ll greatly weaken Mormo, giving me much more leeway in our fated final confrontation. But, there’s a catch: I’ll need something called ‘the Toys of Legend’ to get to those anchors in the first place. Luckily, Togo knows more-or-less where to find one, and he’s even nice enough to point me on my way! More or less.

Okay, it’s still not much, but it’s something. It’s more than Puku ever gave me, or will give me, as they suggest I’m pretty much on my own from here on out.

I walk around Dittoa a little, talking to people and finally checking out the shops without Puku yelling at me to get going. A toy shop sells what look like ridiculously expensive toys, even legendarily so. A nice frog person runs a sticker shop, which I don’t understand the value of, but they’re nice. And people generally dot the streets, talking about… you know, eating hot dogs, taking days off work, living under an oppressive darkness regime. One even gives me a side quest!

Ah, nothing beats the classics when it comes to questing.

Then I set off! I don’t know what direction I’m supposed to be going in, but why should I let that stop me? I move through a few areas, fighting monsters and taking in the sights. I talk to a mermaid-like creature in a water fountain. I fall down a hole and kill enough rats for my quest, then use a magical kazoo to fly back to town and get rewarded. I even level up from all that fighting and questing! Then I find another hidden dungeon, step on some spikes, and die.

I mean, it involved a *few* more steps than that. But not necessarily many.

Yeah, hey: It turns out that the world of Ditto is actually pretty dangerous. Not only is it loaded with monsters and traps, but regaining health is difficult: You can only really do that by eating food, and even the simplest cookie costs twenty gold pieces — not really the kind of money I wanted to burn, since I figured I’d need to get those Toys. And it turns out that stepping on a spike trap with a little under half your health left… well, it wasn’t pretty, basically.

Anyway, a hundred years later…

You know the drill by now: Wake up, you’re the hero, land in darkness, etcetera, go pick up the previous Sword’s gear from their pauper’s grave. Start out at the previous hero’s level 2, which I suppose is nice, but beyond that I don’t quite know how to feel about this. On the one hand, obviously dying and messing up are core to the experience. On the other hand — while it doesn’t seem to be affecting the world that much, I can look at my stat sheet and see that things are being tracked. Number of defeats, ‘world level’, ‘ether level’. Dying like a chump looks and feels bad.

Third time around, I put some actual effort into things. I learn how to read the in-game map, and more-or-less navigate to the correct spot. I buy food and look after my health. I learn what Stickers are, and how to equip them, giving myself a little bit of an edge. I explore and fight, gaining skills and experience, but without letting my health get critical. And before long, I find myself in front of — and then inside of — a Toy Dungeon.

Yes, this is weird.

The Toy Dungeon is an… interesting area. Half battle dungeon, half puzzle, it’s as much tricky to get around in because of all the monsters and locked doors, as it difficult because the space exists in two realities at once — ‘red’ and ‘blue’. I can shift between these by throwing certain switches, and I have to: Each version of each room has slightly different monsters, objects, and semi-translucent walls that block my movement. I don’t even know how half the puzzles work, figuring things out on the fly and under fire. Even worse is the occasionally-appearing invulnerable floating robot monster, who, with a taunting digital laugh, throws the room into its different colour, or summons new monsters for me to fight.

But I do eventually make it to the final room, only to come face-to-face with…

Hmm. This is awkward.

In theory, this is an interesting and tense fight: The Fallen Sword is like me in basic movement and attacks, and uses the very Toy of Legend I’m here to retrieve — their increased equipment is offset by the fact that I’m not an algorithm, meaning I can outplay them. In practice, what happens is that The Swords Of Ditto refuses to let me eat my last hamburger under critical duress — the food quick-select function on the triggers apparently stops working if you’re down to your last food item. So I die, preventably, and as the ‘you died’ screen fades into view I Alt-F4 out of the game in anger.

I return a few minutes later, cooled down — a little. Okay, third time’s the charm, I guess. Let’s see which schlub I get saddled with this time. But when I load the game back up…

Hmm. This appears to be the same character as before, in the same room before the boss-room that I just passed through.

Well. I rather wish I hadn’t found this out — now it’s going to be difficult for me not to abuse this.

On my second try, knowing that to eat my last burger I should just pause the game and go into my inventory proper, I do manage to beat the Fallen Sword. For my efforts, I’m rewarded with an LP disc: A fun toy, particularly if you throw it like a boomerang and it slices through grass and enemy alike. As LPs do. With this toy in hand, I should have all I need to find one of Mormo’s anchors and destroy it — and wouldn’t you know it, Puku just happens to know where that anchor is probably hidden!

“Is it the dungeon with all the mysterious stone record playe-” “Yes.”

You know what? I feel good about this run now, and it’s not just because I’ve discovered a probably foolproof way to avoid death forever. I actually think I’m slowly getting better at The Swords Of Ditto. Maybe I’ll even be able to pull through this time around? Find the second Toy, crack the second anchor, and beat Mormo?

Only time will tell, I suppose.

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