Pros: Clever puzzles, ingenious central gimmick
Cons: Can get pretty frustrating towards the end
Mighty Switch Force! Hyper Drive Edition is a game of clever puzzles, brilliant level design, futuristic settings, weird monsters, and miniskirted escaped convicts. It is also a game that makes a tacit promise; no matter how impossible a level seems, it can be beaten, and no matter how difficult that was, it’s going to be even harder next time.
Published and Developed by: WayForward
For ages: 10 and up
Platform: Wii U
Release Date: November 18, 2012
The Basics: Platforming Puzzler with a Twist
The premise of MSF!HDE is that five convicts have escaped and Officer Patricia Wagon - Patty Wagon, get it? – must retrieve them.
This involves a lot of 2D side-scrolling platforming action. Officer Wagon must jump from block to block over spiked floors, shoot hostile monsters, and use strange machinery in her attempts to reach the escapees, who sit demurely on high platforms, waiting only for recapture.
The most unusual weapon in Wagon’s arsenal is the ability to toggle the solidity of certain blocks and machines. For example, she might face a series of blocks, half solid, half translucent, and have to jump off a solid one then hit her toggle to make the next one solid. It is also possible to allow monsters to walk into the incorporeal blocks and then solidify them. Having a block solidified while inside it does not just kill monsters; it was also one of the most common ways I would accidentally kill myself.
Using these blocks can be tricky, but not as tricky as using the machine blocks that when solidified spit out whatever is in them in a straight line. At times you might have to fire Patty out of one, then another, then another in quick succession. As the game adds monster-respawning machines and land mines, levels become increasingly tough; even tougher if you attempt to beat levels in the game’s ridiculously short “par” times.
The Presentation: Stylish, But Is It Too Sexy for Its Own Good?
Graphically the game is fun, with rather ominous landscapes of futuristic buildings and cloudy skies offsetting the crisp metallic foregrounds.
The costumes of Wagon and the convicts follow the common sci-fi trope in which futuristic women wear far tighter and skimpier clothing than those of our time. The convict’s clothing runs from a striped body suit to a half shirt and cut offs. If Wagon runs out of health her clothes fly off to briefly reveal her underwear before she disappears in electronic static.
Normally I would just consider this a cute tribute to those old women-in-prison exploitation movies, but this year the gaming industry is abuzz with discussions regarding sexism in games and the marginalization of female gamers, so I don’t know if this is just cute silliness or whether it’s an over-sexualization of its characters that might alienate women. It’s a confusing time for male gamers, and while I have no intention of using MSF!HDE to sort out these tangled issues, it seems wrong not to mention it at all.
The Verdict: My favorite Wii U eShop Title of 2012
Of the Wii U eShop games that hit at launch, MSF!HDE stands as my favorite, simple and beautifully designed, tough but fair, fiendishly clever, and cartoonishly silly. A sci-fi puzzle game of monsters and sexy criminals may not be what everyone wants in a game, but it is definitely what I want in one.