I’ve played countless platformers throughout my gaming life, simply because I derive so much pleasure from them. However, this means I’m always on the lookout for something different, to really make what I’m playing stand out from the crowd. This genre always feels like a natural fit on the Nintendo Switch, but is the latest release, Robbie Swifthand and the Orb of Mysteries, worth a look?
You play as Robbie Swifthand, a caricature burglar who is always on the lookout for loot. You’re summoned to an ancient temple, and met by a spirit, who claims you are the only one who can prevent a long trapped demon from breaking free. Dressed in typical cartoon burglar fashion, you set off on a perilous adventure to gather the orb pieces and seal the demon away for good.
Now, let me make one thing clear. This game is aimed at experienced platform gamers; it’s difficult, and not afraid to admit it. This is clear from the start, as you can choose between Not So Hard, Hard or Insanity difficulties. Notice the purposeful omission of medium or normal. I decided, due to my experience, to play on Hard, and in the immortal words of Jeremy Clarkson thought, “How hard can it be?”.
It’s safe to say you’re thrown straight into the action – there’s no typical tutorial section here. Instead, there are some wall drawings in the background which guide you on Robbie’s movements, but you’ll have to figure out which buttons to press all by yourself. You can’t even view them via the menu by pressing +, you’re truly on your own. However, B is used to jump and to select or confirm things, (instead of the traditional A button), and Y is used to throw things. You move around with the D-Pad or left thumbstick, whichever you prefer. Some die hard platforming fans always prefer the D-Pad, myself included. To crawl, hold down on the left thumbstick or D-Pad as you move. Robbie hangs automatically and if you hold down and then press B whilst on the ground, you’ll perform a slightly higher jump than usual. As you’d expect there are plenty of obstacles to avoid such as spikes and swinging axes which will kill you instantly. There are no luxuries such as health bars or medkits here.
There is an occasional niggle with the accuracy of the controls when it comes to moving. Sometimes when crouching you’ll jump in the opposite direction intended and die instantly. In a game where platforming precision is key, it can be frustrating. Gladly, it’s not a big enough problem to cause more than a few expletives from time to time when playing.
Your adventure starts off in the main hall, effectively the hub world, and from there you can enter each temple, which contains a maze of mini stages to clear. You don’t have to complete every one, thank god, as there are different routes through the temple, but if you’re anything like me you’ll want to attempt to clear them all. However, you’ll soon realise it’s better to simply avoid some levels, and select the aptly named “Ragequit” button to exit the level.
The aim of each stage is to find the glowing orb, and throw it into the light portal of the same colour, which then opens the door to the exit. Your orb has certain abilities that’ll you’ll discover, most likely by accident, as you play. Most stages also contain a hidden golden coin to collect; sometimes you’ll need to use your orb to find it before completing the level. The platforming starts off pretty simple, but gradually gets more complex and will make you start to really think about your next move. The level design is impressive, as you’ll never be left in a “dead-end” situation, there’s always a way back. A bit further into the game you’ll experience a different type of level, but I won’t spoil those here.
In Robbie Swifthand and the Orb of Mysteries you don’t have lives, but your death count will be displayed to further induce rage every time you die. And trust me, you’ll be dying a lot. Robbie will appear more battered and bruised at the end of a level, depending on how many times you died trying to complete it. Also, in an eerie touch, you’ll see a ghostly impression left in the exact position you died in. Robbie’s face will also change from his trademark cheeky grin, to pure shock when he notices these silhouettes, or indeed any dangerous obstacles. It’s subtle, but beautifully done. It’s also useful as it highlights dangers so you shouldn’t be caught out a second time.
The game looks lovely, is bursting with charm, and has a hand drawn style, offset by the occasional CGI effects. It also sounds brilliant, with a pleasing mix of tranquil and funky music to accompany the action. I am very fond of Robbie as a character, he doesn’t really say anything but his expressions do all the talking for him. There are also some interludes with your guiding spirit in between levels, including plenty of cheeky nods to the pop culture of today.
There are plenty of levels here to keep you entertained, or enraged, and as the difficulty increases so does the playtime. Basically, you’ll get plenty of hours out of Robbie Swifthand and the Orb of Mysteries even if you consider yourself a platforming expert. However, sometimes you’ll navigate through a treacherous level just to be taken out by some hidden spikes at the last hurdle. It’s in these situations where dying can feel cheap, and can get very, very frustrating. Each temple has an extremely harsh difficulty curve which will put some off for sure.
At the end of each temple you’ll face a boss, or guardian as they’re known, which are fun if simple encounters. After these battles not only will you retrieve an orb piece, you’ll also gain new abilities which develop the gameplay further, such as the double jump. The temples have very different looks and feels, and the levels are built around your abilities as you acquire them. This keeps the platforming action fresh and engaging, stopping it from getting stale and repetitive.
Robbie Swifthand and the Orb of Mysteries on Nintendo Switch is a hard-as-nails platformer which should come with a health warning. Thankfully it’s also a charming and entertaining game, but definitely aimed at fans of the genre. Challenge can often turn into sheer frustration, so if you aren’t a born platformer, or anger easily, this one may not be for you.
Release date: August 2019
Formats: Nintendo Switch (Review)
Massive thanks to: Pixel Reign