Switch or Die Trying is a hardcore, testing platformer that has some neat ideas, while also inducing controller smashing frustration at almost every turn. In fairness to Threye Interactive, they tell you how it is upfront. Upon starting the game, you are met with a message stating that you will die. A lot. And you will. Clearly inspired by the likes of Super Meat Boy, the game will punish you relentlessly, even the early stages, teaching you that anything less than perfection will not get you far. Playing as the letter i, your goal is to traverse each stage to get the rest of the alphabet and try to make amends for being self-centered and focusing too much on yourself.
Complete a level, and you get a little picture with i talking with the other letters. It’s a nice attempt at a narrative to go with the gameplay, but it’s easy enough to just skip over as the real meat of the game is about getting the 3 stars per level. As mobile game-like as that may sound, here the system is implemented in a way that actually makes achieving them feel rewarding. The first is for completing the level, another for beating the par time. The third is for also collecting the drop lying in each level, often in out of the way areas. Complete all three objectives in one go, and you get a neat little ‘Excellence’ cry and an extra stamp on the level screen.
The satisfaction of hearing that little cry is a light relief from the loop of failing and trying and failing and trying. I found myself becoming increasingly apathetic towards aiming for this goal as the game went on though. i controls well enough for basic running and jumping, but once more complex maneuvers are required things can get a little unpredictable. A wall jump, double jump and projectile attack round out your abilities, but often times these don’t react in a consistent manner. Getting caught on the edge of a platform or some slightly dodgy collision detection only compound the difficulty, out of the players hands.
Some levels require utmost precision, making the stodgy controls even more infuriating. Thankfully, an instant restart makes retries more bearable and most levels are not really long enough to make the lack of mid-level checkpoints noticeable. A neat touch is that you can skip any level you may be struggling with, as long as you complete 10 of the 15 levels in each zone you can unlock the next area. Levels are freely accessible to retry at any time, though some are so frustrating you may skip them for good!
While all the tools you’ll need to complete the levels are in your hands, it often feels like you are fighting the controls as well as the fiendishly designed levels. The double jump specifically took me a while to get my head around, as A jumps, with B bloating out i and performing his double jump. While simple enough on paper, having the double jump split across 2 buttons doesn’t feel natural and while pressing B will sometimes have other effects on the environment such as moving platforms or switches, keeping it to one button would have made things a lot more bearable without affecting the gameplay at all.
Switch: Or Die Trying is a game for those who relish a challenge, though oftentimes the challenge comes not through design, but lack of polish. If you are looking for something to scratch that Meat Boy itch, you’ll find some fun here, but be prepared for that to quickly give way to frustration.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.