As far as independent developers go, few have the diverse history of WayForward. For almost thirty years, WayForward has been developing cult classics spanning systems such as the Super Nintendo, Game Boy Advance, Nintendo DS and even the Apple Watch. Whilst beloved not only for their licensed titles, such as the Nintendo 3DS Adventure Time games, and underrated gems, such as the Nintendo DS’s Thor: God of Thunder and Aliens: Infestation, WayForward is arguably most known for their original IP, such as the wonderful Shantae series, and rightfully so. The Shantae series continues to be one of the most unique 2D platforming/Metroidvania franchises of the past two decades and has garnered tons of critical success and a dedicated cult following, leading to the huge success of Shantae: Half-Genie Hero‘s Kickstarter and sales and the announcement of the upcoming Shantae 5. However, while we wait anxiously for Shantae 5, WayForward has managed to bring one of their lesser known franchises to contemporary platforms. The Mighty Switch Force! series, which saw some success on the Nintendo 3DS a few years ago, has finally made its way to the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC in the form of Mighty Switch Force! Collection, a collection of the first two main entries in the series, the Hyper Drive Edition enhanced remake of the first title and Mighty Switch Force! Academy, a multiplayer-focused spin-off. Absent from the collection is the iOS and PC spin-off Mighty Switch Force!: Hose it Down!, although this may have been because of its use of touch and pointer controls.
Mighty Switch Force! follows police officer Patricia Wagon who must recapture a group of convicts known as the ‘Hooligan Sisters’ after they escape her custody. The title, along with the ‘Hyper Drive Edition’, sees the player completing over twenty short-form platforming levels in which Patricia is able to turn certain blocks on and off through the press of a button as she attempts to catch five of the sisters per level. The switching mechanic requires special timing for both platforming and puzzle solving and, due to the nature of each level’s short-form design, there is a timer along with a time goal that speedrunners can try to beat. The problem with this design philosophy, which continues into the other games on this collection, is that it doesn’t lend itself incredibly well to long play sessions; therefore, the games don’t feel at home on home consoles, such as the PS4 and Xbox One. The first title takes roughly two hours to beat (with an extra hour added to the Hyper Drive Edition), and while the game does respectfully introduce its mechanics through fresh and engaging levels, around halfway through Mighty Switch Force! feels like it’s shown all it has to offer, and while puzzle games live or die by their level design, some of the levels in the first game definitely don’t stand out as much as others, with certain ones feeling unnecessarily elongated for the sake of padding rather than properly challenging the player.
Mighty Switch Force! 2 falls into more or less the same category as the first title, except this time the mechanics have been ‘switched’ up (there was really no way of getting around that pun). This sequel follows Patricia Wagon who presumably made a career change between the first title and this one as Mighty Switch Force! 2 sees her as a firefighter, running through levels extinguishing fires in her path (that obstruct certain parts of each level), while now rescuing the Hooligan Sisters and their babies, one of which is hidden in each level. This time the block-switching mechanic has been built upon with the inclusion of mud blocks, which Patricia can dissolve with her hose and pipe blocks, which in turn transport the flow of the hose’s water. It seems like the team mostly learned from the mistakes of the original title as levels are far more engaging this time around, mainly because there are a lot more mechanics to keep the player engaged; however, the title is still too short (being the same length as the original) for its own good, considering that as soon as the game starts to dish out its most impressive level designs, it abruptly ends.
Both titles were previously developed for the Nintendo 3DS as eShop titles, and as a result, the presentation seems less than desirable blown up on a 1080p display; both titles suffer rather frustratingly from screen crunch, making levels seem far more stretched out and barren than they actually are, with the exception of Mighty Switch Force!: Hyper Drive Edition as it was developed for PC and Wii U; however, played on a 1080p display on a home console, all three entries lack a sense of visual polish that make them rather dull to look at. While the first two are Nintendo 3DS titles, they use a pixel-art style that looks great on characters, and backgrounds look gorgeous, but the reuse of assets leaves both games looking dull and repetitive over time, and Hyper Drive Edition is immediately worse for this, removing the charm of the original pixel art and details of almost all of the backgrounds for a shinier, HD art style more reminiscent of WayForward’s DuckTales Remastered and Shantae: Half-Genie Hero (just lacking the polish). Thankfully, each game features a great chip-tune-styled soundtrack from the always great Jake Kaufman, composer of many other WayForward titles.
That brings me to the final, and definitely the weakest point, of the collection, Mighty Switch Force! Academy. Academy is a multiplayer-focused spin-off that sees up to four players rescue the Hooligan Sisters all on a single map that is spread out across over twenty stages, including some classic levels remade in the single map format. If the biggest criticism of the previous entries is that there isn’t enough screen-space, Academy has it in droves to the point where it focuses all four players on the same screen arcade-style, enough so that even on a 42 inch HD TV, it is almost impossible to see where your character is placed. This issue not only makes the game even more dull and visually uninteresting as ever, with levels now only featuring black tiled backgrounds, but it makes the game borderline unplayable in single-player, and my deepest respects go to whoever wishes to play this undocked on the Nintendo Switch. Minus the introduction of multiplayer, the only new thing Mighty Switch Force! Academy offers gameplay-wise is the introduction of looping stages made to benefit the non-scrolling stage format; this makes so that if the player falls off the bottom of the stage, they will reemerge from the very top.
The Mighty Switch Force! Collection is a mixed bag. While it offers some fun, dip-in and dip-out puzzle platforming stages, the value here isn’t all that it’s made out to be, featuring two very short 3DS ports, an HD remake of the first title and a multiplayer spin-off you’d be best staying away from. Despite some level designs being genuinely incredible, with a fun enough aesthetic and some great music, overall, Mighty Switch Force! Collection is a rather unremarkable compilation.
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch
Release Date: 25th July 2019