Mighty Switch Force is the third game in WayForward’s loosely connected “Mighty” series, their modus operandi for these games and their more famous Shantae series seeming to be cute girls in puzzle platformers. I can’t really complain about it though, their art style has a charming cartoon vibe and it seems to be backed up by solid gameplay design. Mighty Switch Force seems to be their darling in the series though, earning itself a sequel and some spin-offs, so it’s no surprise that most of their trademark touches are on show for this first game in the subseries.
Five female convicts have busted out of police custody, dropping a strange chemical behind them that creates unusual monsters in their wake. Officer Patricia Wagon is in pursuit, the player taking her through a small set of levels to track down each girl… only for them to be loose again in the next stage. Despite being escapees, these convicts are mostly just lingering around stages in spots that are a bit tricky to get to, Patricia having to use her smarts, her pistol, and her ability to switch the state of the world to reach them. While your gun is mostly used for taking down the monsters scattered around the levels, a task that never really gets too difficult, the majority of what you’ll be doing is platforming about with the help of your siren helmet, the platforms available to you alternating with every activation. All areas have big chunks of solid ground that aren’t affected by the helmet, but to figure out the puzzles to advance through levels and grab the girls, you’ll need to swap the state of the blocks that are affected by the helmet. While the game doesn’t teach you the controls or really introduce new mechanics, it is set up pretty intelligently so that you can intuit how to interact with the world and new obstacles and enemies pretty quickly.
Things start off simple enough to ease you in, doing things like jumping between blocks and activating your helmet to change which ones you can stand on, but the game brings in new elements like blocks that will launch things inside of them or blocks you can stand on so they don’t disappear when you activate the platform switch. Timing is always an important consideration even in the early stages, Patricia needing to switch in blocks to break her fall or switch them off to get through a space, but very quickly you have to get down switching them in hurry, especially with the launcher blocks. Puzzles where you have to blast yourself between blocks and activate them with expert timing become a favorite of the level designers, the game even asking you to get the enemies involved in your platform switching antics. Your gun can kill the weaker ones, but soon you’ll have to get smart with positioning enemies properly to be taken out by blocks or interacting with special ones you need to break to progress.
For the most part, levels are pretty short and sweet. There are many checkpoints to save you from certain hazards (landing on spikes and standing where an activated block is going to appear being the main reasons you will need them), but death will set you back to the start, something that is usually not too big a worry. Each level has a par time for you to shoot for, usually the par time being somewhere around 1 or 2 minutes. Going through a level the first time will likely take a bit longer, and the game does have some levels that are absolute mazes of launcher blocks with weird layouts, but only two levels really drag on: the final regular level and the final bonus level. That’s mainly because these levels are when the game really tests your aptitude with the switching mechanics. Usually you’re the one switching the blocks around, but these two levels have the game do it automatically on a countdown, meaning you’ll have to move Patricia around carefully to avoid accidental death but swiftly enough to get to the safe way onward. They are interesting challenges, but being set back to the start of them can be agonizing because of how tense and time-sensitive they are. While most levels can be taken at your own pace if you please, these serve as suitable final challenges if just a bit abrupt. It feels like they could have introduced the automatic switching earlier before setting you down in the deep end.
But, like most elements in the game, Mighty Switch Force doesn’t really have the time to explore that mechanic too well. While it does indulge in the launcher blocks almost too much in select levels, the game is rather short, WayForward hoping that you’ll go for the par times as a way of extending the experience. For the most part, the par times are pretty enjoyable to get as well, Patricia’s upgraded gun making it much easier with only the maze-like levels requiring a lot of memorization and quick action. This does mean that nothing really has the time to get old though, Mighty Switch Force feeling like a tightly packed experience with some nifty but simple uses of its core mechanic. Every element is a deliberate inclusion and it sees most of them used in a few ways, it just ends up feeling more like the early parts of a much larger game rather than the complete and total package.
THE VERDICT: Mighty Switch Force is a cute little puzzle platformer in two senses of the word. The cartoon characters give the game a charming aesthetic, post-level art and expressive characters keeping it from feeling like just a foundation for gameplay (although when Patricia is wearing her determined glare she could easily peel paint off a wall) and the switching of platforms is an enjoyable mechanic with enough variety that it sustains the bite-sized experience. Designed specifically to be a fairly cheap 3DS download title, it’s got all the necessary parts to make it a fun purchase, it just doesn’t have the room or ambition to elevate it beyond that.
And so, I give Mighty Switch Force! for Nintendo 3DS…
A GOOD rating. Besides a few levels like the maze-like launcher blocks ones and the abrupt presence of the long levels with automated switching, I can’t find much bad to say about Mighty Switch Force, and even those flaws are mostly negligible. At the same time though, there’s not a whole lot going on in it. Its focus on the block switching is well done but not exceptional, and it has a few twists on how to use it to keep things fresh throughout. The par times make levels easy to replay and add a secondary goal to the game, but the amount of content on offer is still small, and while I won’t say game size alone hurts a game’s quality, it does mean that Mighty Switch Force doesn’t meet its full potential. It dabbles in the things the platform switching mechanic can do whereas a more thorough exploration of it could lead to it being something more than simply Good. Pushing it’s story angle a little stronger could have helped as well since its cute art is an obvious draw, but that’s more seasoning on a serving that would still need something more to be better.
If the description of the game sounded interesting to you, than you will likely enjoy what Mighty Switch Force has to offer despite the short ride it is. It’s the kind of game that leaves you hungry for more of it, but that’s partly because it has given you a small portion. It does at least show why WayForward would choose to embrace this particular title as the main focus of future Mighty series games, as this one feels ripe for development into more complex and lengthy experiences.