First things first: Switch or die trying is adorable. From the appearance of the wobbly-headed protagonist hopping across the screen, to the wildly excited “Excellence!” sound clip played when I met all objectives for a level, I started the game smiling. But don’t let the cuteness fool you – this game is tough, and I died a lot. I died hundreds of times while the tiniest voice provided the cutest sound effects for all of those grisly deaths.
Switch or die trying is the newest release from the development studio, Threye Interactive. Following their success as a mobile game developer for the Indian Air Force, Threye wanted to push themselves to create a game that would develop an emotional connection with its players. Switch or die trying is an attempt to create that bond. It’s a challenging, 2D puzzle platformer that offers a simple yet interesting new mechanic to the platformer genre: the switch.
You start the game as a lowercase letter “i” who has lost touch with his alphabet friends. Level-by-level he seeks to earn back their trust. In order to complete the levels, you will use familiar platformer commands such as jump and shoot. However, the uniqueness of Switch or die trying comes in the “switch” command itself. By pressing “B” on the gamepad, you can switch from a lowercase i to a capital I, and doing so allows for a double jump. The switch command may also change objects within the level itself. Very often you may find yourself midair, needing an additional jump action, but the act of switching may remove a platform from your reach or it may engage a floor of spikes.
Many PC game players prefer to use keyboard commands, so it’s important to note that a gamepad is highly recommended for playing Switch or die trying. It’s not impossible to play without one, but even navigating the main menu by keyboard can be tricky. In many levels, you are required to jump, shoot, change directions, and then switch with split second timing, and doing so on the keyboard would be next to impossible.
The little i protagonist jumps and switches his way through a series of five books, or worlds, each containing 15 levels. Every book has a different theme: Beginning, Adventure, History, Science, and War. The gameplay difficulty ramps up dramatically within the Beginning book, which makes the pacing of Switch or die trying seem inconsistent. For example, a speed trial level halfway through the first book is more difficult than most of the levels in the third book. However, this seems to be balanced by the opportunity to skip between levels within each book, as needed. In order to unlock the next book, you only need to pass 10 of the 15 levels in the previous one. If you get stuck or haven’t quite mastered the technique needed to pass a level, you may skip ahead and come back later.
There is definitely heavy graphical influence from Super Meat Boy, and one of the menus shows our Switch protagonist playing a game of Super Meat Boy himself. Even though the graphics may not be groundbreaking in design, they provide a clean, soothing, and visually pleasing aesthetic. At each new book, I found myself pausing to admire my new surroundings. Each book of levels has its own unique color scheme, and the platforms within each level may be made of glass, sand, metal, or even a moon, depending on the environment. The music is wonderful and fitting for every environment. Fans may download the soundtrack from Steam for free.
The alphabet theme threads throughout the game, from collecting ink drops to hopping through a library game menu, but the story feels a little flat. If Threye’s intention was to create an emotional game for its players, as they have stated in the game marketing, then they may have missed the mark. The emotion only seems apparent in the cuteness of the protagonist and sound effects. I think there’s room for them to improve upon the delivery of the story, if an emotional response is so desired. Instead of having the protagonist explore History or Science books, they may have had anger, loneliness, or friendship themes, with appropriate obstacles for each environment. Without this, the story of our protagonist trying to reconnect with his friends feels like an afterthought to pull the game together and give it meaning.
The enjoyment of playing Switch or die trying comes from the challenges the game presents, and Threye’s new switch mechanic will keep a platformer fan busy for hours. Players will enjoy the tough levels, attractive graphics, and adorable sound effects. If you are up for the challenge of mastering new platforming puzzles, I recommend picking up this title.
A PC review copy of Switch or die trying was provided by Threye for the purpose of this review