When you really sit and think about it, the 2D platformer is arguably the most oversaturated genre in all of gaming history. Before the Xbox Live Marketplace made its name on games like Super Meat Boy and Braid—really even before Steam (the largest independent games distribution service) was a twinkle in Gabe Newell’s eye—small development teams have sought to emulate the success of the great platformers that came long before: Super Mario Bros, Metroid and the like.
If you speak to certain circles in media criticism, you might hear the adage, “There are only seven basic plots.” Meaning, despite our wildly inventive imaginations and our knack for pushing the technological boundaries that constrain our ability to tell stories, humans only respond to a handful of time-honored tales. That’s why 200-million dollar movies aren’t automatically good based solely on the complicated logistics it took to make them. If the story strays from our expectations (or doesn’t subvert them in just the right way), we get a little confused.
I feel the same way about 2D platformers. The concept of guiding an avatar over ledges and gaps, examining the verticality of a space, and dying MANY times in this exercise is ingrained into my animal brain. Too often I find myself annoyed or outright turned off by a platformer that tries a little too hard to break the mold. As a lifelong gamer, I can’t stress enough how important it is for a developer to recognize not only the audience that they are developing for, but also the history of their game’s respective genre.
Thankfully, Switch – or die trying exemplifies the importance of playing by those rules. It may not be on track to make boatloads of money, but with a little refinement I think Threye Interactive’s next game may put the developer on the map.
Switch – or die trying has nothing to do with Nintendo’s newest console, though the simplicity of its design would make it a perfect fit for portable play. Threye’s first release is a cute, minimalist examination of one of the most time-honored mechanics in platforming: the double jump. Players take on the role of the loneliest letter in the alphabet: the letter ‘i’. i may be small, but he’s no stranger to environmental challenges. And he’s got a few tricks up his sleeve. While traversing across any of the game’s 70-plus levels, a single button press switches i from small to big. Activating the ‘switch’ mid-jump grants i an additional jump, but it also changes the level itself. Platforms that were available at the beginning of the jump suddenly shift position (or orientation) as the jump ends.
As you might expect, Threye’s decision not to overly complicate the mechanics of their first release imbues Switch – or die trying with a natural progression of complexity. The first stages do a wonderful job tutorializing the double-jump by throwing the player into scenarios where the solution is immediately obvious. But the back half of the game gets very tricky. Like any good platformer, levels are designed with a puzzle-box mentality. On the surface, you may be controlling a cute little avatar as he bounces through the environment, but in actuality, you’re job as the player is to poke and prod at the seams of a given level. Sooner or later, it busts wide open.
It’s fair to say that Switch – or die trying falls flattest when comparing it to the best modern platformers available today. But only regarding presentation. Larger teams with a few more releases under the belt know what it takes to add that extra ten to twenty percent of polish. They know how to incorporate 3D (or 2.5D) elements and FX work into their game. And the really good ones know exactly what audience they are playing to. It’s not that Switch – or die trying doesn’t attempt to do these things. It’s just clear that they didn’t get the same focus as the building blocks. But like I said earlier, I have a feeling Threye’s next game will hit those marks a lot more directly.
Switch – or die trying is likely to remain hidden among the vast treasure trove of good games on Steam, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek it out and play it!
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PC ; Publisher: Threye Interactive ; Developer: Threye Interactive; Players: 1 ; Released: March 7, 2017 ; MSRP: $9.99