Did you ever notice that time limits placed on anything fun - a vacation, for instance - might make you savor the experience but they're also kind of a bummer? Likewise, not having enough time to prepare for something important can also be a drag. Although it's not the first game to impose a timer on the action, The Swords of Ditto begins with the premise that its hero has four in-game days to prepare for the big showdown with the boss, a witch named Mormo. It isn't much time.
Of course, this little introduction might give you the impression that The Swords of Ditto is a grim affair, but this 2D-roguelike action-RPG is anything but serious. A colorful, Legend of Zelda-inspired lighthearted cartoon, Ditto is playful, silly, and charming. It's also pretty much a compendium of ideas pulled from other RPGs and platformers, but no matter. The Swords of Ditto has a very specific style, if not an entirely original gameplay loop.
After a brief tutorial in which your death is inevitable, you wake 100 years later to learn that every century a new hero - you - is born to wield the Sword of Ditto and fight Mormo. You have four in-game days to prepare by wandering the countryside, collecting loot and power-ups and performing the usual grindy, dungeon-crawly things that RPG heroes do to get stronger and more able. Die along the way and although you retain some of your gear and level, the map changes item and town locations and the grind begins anew. Since the respawned enemies are also stronger, each reincarnation actually becomes a little more challenging. For a game that seems so openhearted and inviting, it can be a pretty unforgiving. Like all roguelikes, there's the potential frustration of time being wasted when an unexpected death comes calling late in the game.
Moment-to-moment, though, the experience of playing The Swords of Ditto is a pleasant, if pretty familiar one. There is more than a bit of whimsy in the special item toys that can be found in dungeons or purchased at the toy store, and buffs are enabled via stickers applied to weapons or your face. The Swords of Ditto doesn't take itself too seriously, which is reflected in the story, the NPC quest-givers and shopkeepers, and the enemies themselves. There is a large and varied menagerie of opponents to dispatch and many require more than mindless sword swings to defeat. In general, combat is accessible and not terribly complex but sometimes items and weapons can be used in creative and surprising ways. The in-game map isn't entirely useful and not all items and systems are well explained, leading to more than a bit of trial and error and some of that precious four days of time being wasted or leading to an unfortunate death and restart.
Although it's undeniably charming, much of the time playing The Swords of Ditto felt like I'd stumbled into the Legend of Zelda with a goofy cartoon skin but without the ability to save the progress. Roguelikes are best when the action is swift, each run is short and each adds incremental forward momentum. Although there's a way to extend the boss battle countdown timer, both the roguelike and timer aspects of The Swords of Ditto - undeniably the two hooks that make the game unique - feel slightly at odds with the traditional RPG elements. Caveats aside, playing alone or with a friend in couch co-op, The Swords of Ditto is simple fun with enough depth to keep it interesting throughout.