There’s one thing that’s absolutely undeniable, and that’s just how cute The Swords of Ditto is. Everything’s got a family friendly Adventure Time cartoon vibe, and there’s tons of lightly nonsensical things within. The game’s boomerang is a vinyl, you can smash things with a giant spiked conker, the fast travel system is based off tooting your kazoo and then stepping into a bus that appears out of a portal. And while it’s dotted with references to pop culture and other media, it’s really gets in your face with it.
Alongside a release on Nintendo Switch a couple weeks ago, the game was updated on PS4 and PCs to become The Swords of Ditto: Mormo’s Curse. At launch – find our The Swords of Ditto review here – it was a charming title held back by a few key design decisions, such as permadeath that cut against the cutesy visuals, and a strict time limit before you were marched into the final battle. The update (and being able to play the game while slouched in a Eurostar seat) gave me a good reason to start a new adventure.
With the Mormo’s Curse update, and the updates that came last summer, the game’s been successively tightened up and revised. The biggest change is the removal of permadeath on all but the highest difficulty. In the original game, if you died at any time, that was it, Mormo had won and you’d get yourself a new hero. Now Puku will come and magic you back to your home, at the cost of some crystals and coins, though the risks return when you set foot inside Mormo’s tower and only a prior offering to a celestial being can give you a second chance, otherwise it’s death and starting over.
The most obvious reference in the game is, of course, the central mythology of a timeless battle between good and evil, as Mormo repeatedly faces down with chosen kids who pick up a sword to fight her menace and monsters. It’s a story lifted straight out of The Legend of Zelda, but given a cutesy spin once again by the bickering antagonism between Mormo and her do-gooding arch-nemesis, the glowing ghostly dung-beetle Puku.
Zelda’s influence is felt throughout the world, as you run around the overworld in search of dungeons where you can alternately find Toys – the game’s name for special weapons and abilities – and Mormo’s anchors that give her more power. The latter tend to rely on you having a particular toy, whether it’s the aforementioned vinyl, a golf club to hit spectral balls around, a drone to remote control over trigger lasers, and more. It’s an abbreviated form with just two key Toy dungeons and two anchor dungeons to try and beat before facing Mormo.
It even takes a leaf from the old “It’s dangerous to go alone!” meme that The Legend of Zelda spawned, but instead of giving you a sword, it gives you a co-op buddy. The game can be played in co-op as simply as having a second player pick up a pad and press a button. They have all the same abilities as you, the same stickers to choose from, the same Toys, but you do share certain things like food. It gets a bit chaotic at times, if you’re partnered with someone who loves to rush in, and some of the boss battles are made more challenging by having more enemies to face.
Win or lose in the climactic battle against Mormo, and it’s back to the start of a new adventure, dragging some of your accrued stuff forward in time by spending the celestial crystals you have left, and continuing to level up the sword itself. There’s added variety here through Mormo cursing you – Hey! That’s in the game name! – with different modifiers, an overarching quest that grows through multiple plays, and new environments to battle through with interesting new NPCs and enemies to meet. The one negative consequence of permadeath being pushed into a corner is that the original conceit of failures leading to a darker world is also a reduced possibility. It still puts the fear in you when battling through Mormo’s tower, but having permadeath as an option alongside difficulty modes would have kept the original feel for those that wanted it.
The two lingering problems are that of pacing in the game’s opening and the game just feeling a little bit too randomised. The overworld has been made more compact in the sweeping update, but that was to make things more interesting and it’s ended up on the side of being too busy instead. There’s often so little room to breathe that you end up feeling trapped by an odd bit of scenery that you’re battling through. The same carries through to the dungeons, with the side dungeons often ending up being single rooms where you bash some crystals or find a single chest, and the bigger ones have “puzzles” as basic as smashing everything and finding a switch. When they do try to do multiple things, they feel disjointed and underwhelming, especially in the context of occurring in repeating rooms.
Getting procedural generation to feel like something hand-crafted is one of the biggest, most difficult tasks. Ditto doesn’t manage it, and for me that made the first playthrough a game of “spot the randomised element” instead of simply letting the charming design wash over me. It’s with the second or third sword that I started to feel it coming together. The lore of the world that’s gradually revealed through tablets found in chests is a weird mixture of gods, coming of age stories, friendship and betrayal, you start to get the more pleasing blend of being powerful but still facing a challenge, and the ways that each play can differ from the one that went before come to light.
That Devolver and One Bit Beyond have stuck with this game and continued to evolve it is a credit to them both. Because of that, The Swords of Ditto has matured, it’s grown, and it’s kept and even added to the original charm and style. It’s still a bit of a slow burn to get started with, but the changes made in Mormo’s Curse have made it a much better game now than it was a year ago.