- Developer: Pixel Reign
- Publisher: Pixel Reign, Kiss Publishing Ltd
- Genre: Action, Adventure, Indie
- Release Date: August 1, 2019
- Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Windows, Mac,
- Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch
It’s been a while since I had the opportunity to review a good indie Nintendo Switch game. So, when Robbie Swifthand came out, I jumped at the chance to review this great looking game.
The basic premise of the story is that you’re a thief that has somehow found his way into what appears to be an abandoned tomb. You’re greeted by a benevolent spirit that tells you that mankind is faced with certain ruin, if the evil spirit that dwells in these tombs is released. To save mankind you need to collect three crystals to lock the demonic spirit in this tomb forever. Considering you are Robbie Swifthand, you don’t care about anything more than filling your pockets with gold. The good spirit sighs and says that if you help, you will be handsomely rewarded. As Robbie is rather self-involved, he agrees to help, albeit solely in pursuit of the promised treasure.
Throughout the game you are given different routes to take to get to the end of each level. So if you’re a completionist, you have 90 levels to choose from, however, if (like me) you want to get to the story you can take the most direct route to the end of the level. Each level is passed by throwing a small crystal into a coloured portal. Throughout the level you have to dodge traps, find the crystal, throw it into the portal, and then make your way to the exit without dying. Simple, right? For some levels, yes, it’s relatively simple, but for others you can be stuck on the same section of a level for 10 to 15 minutes. When I was nearing the end of the first stage, just before the first boss, Robbie was constantly dying on swinging axes that I had no idea how to cross. However, after trying repeatedly I was eventually able to get passed them. The feeling of accomplishment was amazing, if not somewhat short lived, as immediately after I passed the axe a boulder fell from the ceiling and crushed Robbie.
As Robbie is the most unlikeable protagonist that I have played in a long time, the idea of throwing him into pits full of spikes was rather enticing, to say the least! As a hardcore 2D platformer, the games eases you into the play style and traps before throwing you headfirst into it, which I appreciated. However, the further you get in, the more difficult the levels get. From swinging axes which demand perfect timing, to rolling spiked balls that chase you throughout the level, the gameplay doesn’t get boring! A nice touch in this game, and one which bolsters your survivability, is that it uses old traps that you have gotten used to, along with introducing new traps further into the levels.
There are no other enemies as such, apart from the boss battles which are epic in their difficulty and graphics. The first boss that you come across is a gigantic face with two fists three times your size! To defeat the boss you need to dodge his humongous fists and pick up the crystals that he drops. Then by throwing the crystals into his eyes you temporarily blind him and chip away at his health. However, the boss doesn’t have a health bar for you to see how well you are doing, so you simply have to keep at it until you defeat him. Each boss has its own way of trying to defeat Robbie and also has its own way of being defeated. I won’t give you a helping hand for the other bosses though, this isn’t a walkthrough!
Once you defeat a boss Robbie is given power ups which help him through subsequent levels; these range from a simple double jump ability, to the ability to fly. The more you play the more you end up having to use these power ups. Whether it’s double jumping to reach a new ledge to get the crystals, or delicately flying through a hallway with a lava floor and spikes. With Robbie not having any weapons or powers of his own, these little power ups come in super handy later on in the game!
The visuals of this game are oddly beautiful. The 2D design has an almost 3D quality to it thanks to the lighting within the levels. Sometimes the light will catch Robbie in such a way that I would just stand there and marvel at how they got the lighting elements so perfect. Honestly, for an indie 2D platformer, some AAA game designers could take a leaf out of Pixel Reign’s book when it comes to lighting. When Robbie dies, a small amount of blood splatter will stay on the walls as well, which helps you remember where hidden traps are. Also, wherever your dead body lands, a blue “spirit” will stay in the area to remind you not to go to certain places or jump over certain pits. The particle effects within the game are well done for an indie 2D platformer. The dust that Robbie and the traps kick up really gives the feel that you’re in a tomb that hasn’t been explored for thousands of years. Obviously with it being a 2D platformer you don’t expect high quality particle physics, but what you get fits perfectly with the aesthetic of the game. The game has a great colour palette that it works from. The first few levels are grey and dark, giving you a sense of foreboding that comes hand in hand with exploration deep down in a tomb with no way out. As the game progresses you’re given glimpses of green shrubs and the scenery brightens up a bit. Only for you then to be shoved head first into what can only be described as the pits of hell, filled with lava and flames. The lighting of the flames is rather good though; against the dark backdrop the burning flames of hell look exquisite whilst they’re toasting Robbie alive.
The sound design is what you would expect from a high-paced hardcore platformer. The quick tempo and urgency of the music makes you want to speed your way through a level, and if you’re anything like me, dying repeatedly in the process. However, when I took my time and muted the music, I found that I was able to pass the levels a lot easier. Character wise, the main character doesn’t speak, only making the odd grunt or scream of dying anguish. The spirit that you meet speaks in an odd backwards language, which is very clever character design as you can kind of understand he is communicating, but are also unable to make out any words. Along the levels you also meet a ghostly girl who speaks to Robbie, but she speaks in a different language; it almost sounds Spanish or Portuguese. The environmental sounds are great. I played the game through headphones and could really hear all of the traps that were activating around me in the echoey hallways. It really puts you on edge hearing flames bursting out of a trap that you haven’t come across yet.
The controls are easy enough to pick up, left is left, and right is right. When booting up the game, I became immediately worried, this game uses the “B” button on the switch as its main button. If I wanted to select anything in the menu I had to use “B” to select, not “A”, my brain was not prepared for this. I searched high and low in the menu and couldn’t find a place to change the button selection, all I could find was the audio settings. So, I resigned myself to using this as the main button. For me as a Nintendo Switch player, using “B” as jump was frustrating, my having gotten used to “A” as the default jump button in switch games. It feels like it has been done intentionally to force different controls onto you, but as the game is hard enough anyway, I don’t think it is necessary.
Robbie himself behaves very well control wise. He doesn’t seem to float unnecessarily when you jump and he also doesn’t slide over solid surfaces. This is exactly what you want from a game like this, a solid character with solid controls. The only recurring issue I had was that when I used the analogue stick to crouch I would accidentally press right slightly and Robbie would crawl head first into a swinging axe. Not the sharpest tool in the shed are you, Robbie?
Now I’m not one that willingly throws myself into rage games (see my review of Human Fall Flat), so I was a bit worried that I had received a game that was going to create holes in my sanity (and my walls). But as hardcore as this game is, I wouldn’t call it rage inducing. Yes, there were times when I was getting killed by the same thing repeatedly, but instead of getting frustrated I became more focused on how to get around it. I don’t know whether it’s because the main character is so dislikeable or whether I have grown as a person, I’ll leave that decision up to you, dear reader.
This is a great 2D hardcore platformer, it’s a game that I have already logged multiple hours into with multiple more hours yet to be logged. For the price point I think it’s perfect, it’s a great game to sit down and just churn out. It doesn’t involve too much strategy or hard thinking, you can simply sit back, relax, and throw Robbie repeatedly into pit of spikes after pit of spikes.