School is in session for the newest installment of the Mighty Switch Force! series
By now Officer Patricia Wagon, protagonist of WayForward’s Puzzle/Platform series “Mighty Switch Force!”, has proven that she always has what it takes to save Planet Land. Between taking down aliens and capturing hooligans, to tirelessly putting out fires and saving civilians (who were previously hooligans themselves), this cybernetic superhuman is not someone you want to mess with. Despite her raw talent however even Patty Wagon was once a lowly cadet in the police academy, working hard and doing what she could to prove that she belonged. Now, thanks to the newest MSF installation, Mighty Switch Force! Academy, you can now see exactly what went down back then.
Mighty Switch Force! Academy, as previously mentioned, serves as a predecessor to the first and second Mighty Switch Force! games. Players are given control of Cadet Patricia Wagon, as she takes on a series of tests issued by the Academy to prove that she’s got what it takes to be an Officer of the Law. The game begins with Cadet Wagon waiting in line to take an exam, taken through a VR headset, issued by Corporal Gendarmor (the robot that serves as the goal within each level of the MSF games). While every one else appears to have been acing it, Patricia appears to have met with a bit of trouble during the exam and somehow manages to blow up the VR device… with her still stuck inside of it. Thus, the gauntlet of levels within cyberspace begins!
Mighty Switch Force! Academy plays exactly the same as the first MSF, with players once again in control of “Officer” Wagon. Within each level are the five (usually) Hooligan Sisters scattered about in various nooks and crannies. Cadet Wagon’s goal is to arrest each escaped hoodlum (done so by touching them), and get to the exit. The exit, once again Corporal Gendarmor, is not present immediately however and only arrives on the scene after every Hooligan Sister is dealt with. Once Wagon reaches Gendarmor, it’s on to the next level.
The mechanics of Wagon herself also remain the same as they have always been. Besides being able to run, jump, and shoot, Wagon can also use the light on her helmet to switch back and forth certain portions of reality, which are represented by blocks. This feature is really the main draw of the game, as it adds an enormous puzzle element to the game, causing players to think things through before jumping from place to place haphazardly. Par Times, which challenge players to beat each level within a certain time limit, also make a return but are once again completely optional.
If the in-game mechanics and overall goal of Mighty Switch Force! Academy is the same as its predecessors, what makes it unique? Well, rather than changing the goal, Academy has a new layout for its levels which completely differentiates from MSF 1 and 2. Instead of once again going with levels that are more linear and side-scrolling, Academy sets its levels up in the style of old arcade games such as Joust or Mario Brothers. This means, first and foremost, that the entire level is visible (with a few small exceptions that I wont detail for the sake of spoilers) and box-shaped. Things are a bit smaller and may be harder to see, but is a minute enough problem that it seems not to cause any trouble in terms of level completion. Also like in many old-school arcade games, there are no invisible barriers, meaning that walking offscreen to the right will have you coming back onscreen from the left and that falling down a pit will send you to the top of the screen rather than damaging or killing you. Though simple concepts, these new level elements are great for experiencing a familiar game in a whole new way, and WayForward seems to have taken advantage of this quite well.
Although all in the same shape, the levels generally never overlap in terms of design which keeps the entire experience fresh and playful.
Mighty Switch Force! Academy also provides another first for the series; Multiplayer Mode! Academy provides multiplayer functionality for up to four players and allows them to tackle the game’s challenging levels together. Although that may sound perfect on paper, keep in mind that communication with your allies will be important. After all, having all four players switching and jumping around at once with no communication won’t get you anything but a nice big Game Over. Players can also go head-to-head in the Vs. mode as they use their wits and platforming prowess in an attempt to be the last Patty standing.
Much of the game takes an almost retro turn in terms of graphics, but it all fits quite well. While Patricia, enemies, and blocks still look the same, Mighty Switch Force! Academy whimsically represents the cyberspace aspect with varying, and usually bright, color pallets that paints mostly every a bit differently from one another with backdrops ranging from circular grids to scrolling cyberspace nightscapes.
The music of Jake Kauffman once again in Mighty Switch Force! Academy returns. The soundtrack of Academy is not new, consisting of songs from the first two MSF games, but are genuinely composed so well that it does not detract from anything but instead once again greatly enhances the overall feel of the game. The sound effects remain entirely the same, but Wagon has brought along with her some phrases more befitting of her current position as a Cadet. Hearing her yell things such as “Final Exam!” or “Too cool for school!” never loses its charm.
The Mighty Switch Force! line of games has always been one of quality, and Mighty Switch Force! Academy is no exception. Although aimed more toward those proficient within the platforming genre, Academy is still a game worth, at the very least, checking out. Between the easy-to-learn and overall smooth gameplay, solid level design, and killer soundtrack, being in school has never been so cool.
Final Verdict: 4.5 / 5
Available on: PC (reviewed) ; Publisher: WayForward; Developer: WayForward; Release Date: November 23,2015; ESRB: E for Everyone; MSRP: $9.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review code for Mighty Switch Force! Academy provided by the game’s publisher, WayForward.