Handhelds have always proved a perfect home for tactical games. The combination of a more thoughtful, slower pace, and set mission structure, makes them ideal for the player on the go, able to dip in and dip out as they see fit. Similarly a roguelite cycle works wonders as well. Stick them together and you’re onto a real winner in the handheld space. As if by magic, Focus Home Interactive has brought it’s uber-stylish tactical roguelite Othercide to Nintendo’s hybrid Switch, all set to give you the best of both worlds, with tactics at home and on the go. After we reviewed Othercide at launch on those chunkier consoles, we just had to know how the Switch version was going to turn out. As it happens, pretty well.
Othercide is amongst the most compelling games I’ve played this year purely in terms of aesthetics. Boasting a largely black and white visual style with bold red highlights, it immediately evokes memories of Frank Miller’s Sin City, or perhaps Mike Mignola’s Hellboy. It is undeniably memorable, attractive and just plain cool. Most games would kill for the incredible level of art design that Othercide wears so effortlessly.
The colour palette isn’t the only reason to check into Othercide. The game’s Gothic-horror creature designs are delightfully macabre, with shocking and utterly lethal results to going anywhere near them. They’re recreated with care and attention by their character icons when you move over them, but in the Switch version you are relying more on them to paint a true picture of what you’re fighting over the character models themselves.
Beginning in the Age of Shattering in 1897, you initially encounter Mother, fighting against The Other in an attempt to prevent them from destroying The Veil. It’s an evocative, if somewhat unclear narrative setup, and Othercide is the kind of game that will play its narrative hand close to its naked, broken, terrifyingly bony chest.
The key aspect is that you ostensibly take on the role of Mother, and through your blood you raise Daughters to send into battle against The Other. These myriad clones of yourself fit into a number of sub-classes, from defensive specialists through to their long-range siblings, and the more time they spend in battle, the more their strength and ability will grow.
Unfortunately, Othercide has plans on keeping you unsettled throughout, not least by being as hard as nails, but also because it wants you to fail. Failure is built into the very fabric of Othercide’s gameplay loop, and your Daughters are going to die. The game autosaves too, so there’s no going back, no classic Fire Emblem trick of resetting your console to undo a stupid mistake; once you’ve made your move you’re done.
However, death isn’t the end, and even losing every single one of your heroes merely leads to you starting over again, ready to give it another try. This is where the roguelite swing comes into play, and Othercide is fortunate enough that you’ll want to keep grinding away at its gothic-charms over and over again.
The move to the Switch has had some clear visual compromises, but they do little to reduce the game’s overall aesthetic qualities. Cutscenes look clear and relatively crisp, but moving in closer to the character and enemy models during tactical play shows a roughness that wasn’t present in the Xbox One X version we originally reviewed. That’s fairly typical considering the relative power of the two consoles, but there’s seemingly little to no anti-aliasing at work to round off those rougher edges.
There’s considerably less detail overall to the characters and enemy models as well, doubly so when playing in handheld mode, which is disappointing coming from the other console versions. The visual design is one of the game’s highlights, and the black and white imagery needs that distinctiveness to be truly effective. You definitely still get the sense of foreboding and evil that they represent, but it’s indistinct and fuzzy, while various visual effects like rain and character transparencies are much more simplistic.
All the compromises mean that Othercide feels well optimised well for Nintendo Switch, with no signs of slowdown or judder, and when playing in handheld mode the UI has been suitably sized to make sure you’re not going to be squinting at your console all day. It just doesn’t hit the same highs as its more powerful brethren.
None of that diminishes the effectiveness of the game’s central draw, which is the tactical combat and roguelite loop which you’ll readily find yourself drawn into. Nor does it take away from the game’s incredible audio design, with its chugging guitars, abrasive tones and vocal chants raising the atmosphere to unprecedented levels.