Does anyone remember Super Meat Boy? If so, do you recall how frustrating it was trying to make it through a level full of traps and hazards without losing your train of thought and becoming mincemeat as you fall into a circular saw or get impaled upon a spike? Well, imagine the frustration and rage-inducing emotions this brought, then combine them with the classic “I wanna be the guy” mechanics, a game infamous for its randomly falling ceilings, spikes popping up out of nowhere, and floors that vanish as you stand on them. This crazy, sadistic concoction goes under the name of Robbie Swifthand and the Orb of Mysteries.
Developer Pixel Reign and Publisher Kiss Publishing have kept me awake the last few nights, furiously trying to progress a few more levels. However, it always ends the same way – I end up rage quitting and I throw my switch (as gently as I can) onto a pillow I’ve strategically placed on the floor so it doesn’t get damaged. So, just what is it about this game that had me coming back for more despite how much it was making me angry? Let’s find out…
The story is very straight forward within Robbie Swifthand (as it shall be known from now onwards), you’re the titular character who has fallen into a strange room, a room filled with only one other being, a small mysterious spirit. It begins to tell you how you’re the only one who can save the world, a task you can only accomplish if you challenge, and eliminate, the evil spirits who reside within this sacred temple. Failure to do so will see the rebirth of a great evil which was sealed away many years ago, an evil that will destroy the entire world and all of its inhabitants without any mercy…
Unfortunately, the fate of the world has been left in the hands of a common thief who couldn’t care less about stepping up and helping out the human race, he just wants to get out of this strange place and continue doing what he does best – stealing things. Unable to grasp what’s being asked of him, the mysterious being decided to use that which Robbie loves in their favour as they try to temp our protagonist with the promise of a significant reward should he succeed in his task. Now, Robbie Swifthand may not care about the world and doing something that’s good for once, but if a reward is involved, and a significant one at that, then it’s an offer he can’t refuse!
So, upon reluctantly agreeing to help, you’re given more info about your task within this mystical place. You must venture through three deadly chambers, each complete with many stages, as you make your way towards the evil minion which resides within the final room, take them out and grab one of the three fragments from each one. Once you have all three, the spirit promises to use them to seal the evil one within the temple and free our persuasive protagonist from this pesky prison…
Little did he, or you, know that this would be the start of an adventure you seriously wish you hadn’t agreed to – not even for all the gold in the world!
Robbie Swifthand is a game full of cheap deaths, unfair situations, last-minute brutalities, and plenty of ‘WTF’ situations – it’s great! The premise is simple, upon entering an area and picking a level (from the magical grid of orbs), you’re dropped within a room of death. It’s your task to make your way through the small room (usually a few screens wide in all directions), find a mystical neon-coloured orb, make your way ‘safely’ towards a pulsating portal, throw the orb into it with all your might, then make it to the exit without dying. Simple.
However, if it was that simple I wouldn’t have had to set up a safety rage-cushion, would I?!
Initially, the first few levels do actually play out like the above, they are nice and simple as you work your way through them and become accustomed to the solid platforming mechanics as you jump around, learn the arc of the ball as you throw it and practice how to use the super-jump (holding down and jumping). Then you’ll start to unlock the levels which will have you screaming in pain as you die over and over and over again. You’ll step on a trap that shoots up and stabs you in the butt, so you’ll learn not to stand there. Then you’ll avoid that and jump on a ledge where the ceiling falls and squashes you. Then you’ll go the same route but move before you get a nasty headache only to be greeted by a massive swinging axe to come down and impale you from the rear…
Finally, you’ll learn from your mistakes and make it to the neon orb, you jump to collect it and suddenly, spikes shoot out the ceiling and stab you in your face, leaving you dangling in mid-air as the Switch leaves your hand and magically ends up on the other side of the room.
The above is an example of the kind of things to expect when playing the game – it’s not for those who get frustrated easily as it’s all about trial and error and remembering the patterns and path so that you can make it to the orb, to the portal, and out again, without a scratch. One hit and it’s back to the beginning of the stage. On the bright side though, respawning takes a few seconds at most, so you’re back in the game very fast.
Progression and mechanics
Robbie Swifthand, although being one of the most frustrating games I’ve played this year, was very addictive to play and kept me interested throughout. Although the premise remained the same, regardless of whether you’re on level 1 or level 50, the game keeps things fresh by introducing new mechanics, hazards, enemies, and abilities as you progress. Each of the three areas also has its own aesthetics and unique obstacles which try and stop you ‘dead’ in your tracks. For example, the first area has some levels with a giant spiked ball rolling after you, which makes you think fast as you run to avoid it whilst still following the basic principle of the level. In the second area, we have moving platforms with spikes on the sides and bottom which can easily remove your head if you don’t watch out.
As previously mentioned, each area also has a boss within its final room. These are all different and require you to learn their patterns in order to take them down. It’s all about getting them to drop a crystal shard, grabbing it, then exposing their weak spot so you can throw the shard into them and eventually kill them and retrieve the fragment for the spirit. I enjoyed these fights as they were very different from the actual levels and changed the gameplay around just enough so you could have a little break each time you made it to one of their rooms.
However, if all you could do is duck, jump and super-jump, things would get pretty boring after a while. As such, the game gives you new abilities the further you progress. The first of which is the ability to ‘almost’ double-jump. I say almost as you don’t gain double the air, just a little boost as you jump to allow you to jump further or slightly higher. This is a great ability when you’re being chased by a giant ball of death! Also, unlike some games which have progression-based unlocks, you can go back into previous levels with your newly unlocked abilities and use them to help you complete levels you couldn’t do before or search for hidden items.
Robbie Swifthand has three difficulties, Not so Hard, Hard and Insanity. I’ve been playing on Hard as according to the game, it’s the way the game was meant to be played. Not so hard is meant for beginners and people who are having trouble with the game, and Insanity has a warning which claims you shouldn’t play it unless you’ve 100% the game on Hard Mode (so I’ll not be touching that any time soon…). So, once you’ve finished the game on the difficulty you’re most comfortable with, try again on the next one up – although the game is a bastard to our poor protagonist and gets pleasure in watching you die horrific deaths, it will certainly make you better at platforming and increase your reaction speeds.
Alternatively, if you don’t want to bump up the difficulty because you’re too scared or worried you’ll end up hitting someone or turning into the Hulk due to how angry it’ll make you, why not go on a treasure hunt? Each level has a hidden coin somewhere within the dark recesses – basically, they’re all in hidden caves that you can’t see until you walk into a wall and discover it’s fake, or by throwing the orb at certain structures to open a new passageway. You can collect these on your first playthrough, as you progress naturally, but I spent 99% of my time on my first playthrough concentrating on something more important, staying alive.
But, what are these coins for, I hear you cry? Well, if you find out, let me know. I’ve found about five of them so far, out of the 60+ levels I’ve completed – not through lack of trying. I have noticed two columns on a wall in the hub area which appears to show the coins you’ve collected in a vertical orientation. So, my best guess would be that once you’ve collected all of the coins, the wall will open to reveal a secret room of either happiness or more punishment. But, I imagine I’ll never discover what lies behind the wall so I’ll just imagine it’s full of man-eating human-sized slugs which have a taste for people whose name begins with ‘R’. There, I no longer wish to find out what happens when I collect all the coins, thus won’t try my hardest to do so! Although, I imagine that will be one of the trophies when it hits the PS4 shortly.
Graphically, Robbie Swifthand looks really nice on the Switch (I only play it in portable unless I state otherwise), with a nice sharp image and well-detailed textures throughout. I love Robbie with his idle animations and even small puffs of air as he breathes out, waiting for you to take control and send him to his doom. The game is also a multi-parallax environment, with elements in the fore and background moving independently of each other and the 2D platforms to create a sense of depth and realism.
The one downside, which I wasn’t expecting, is the performance. The majority of the time the game runs perfectly at a stable framerate with no issues at all. However, as you die, a blue ghost-like imprint of your body remains on the level in the place where you died – similar to the crosses in Mario Maker. As you die, more and more of these are stamped onto the level, thus generating more assets on screen for the game to remember and draw. Sure, they are only small imprints of how useless you are, but if you’re like me and end up dying 30+ times on a single level, it begins to impact the framerate a little. I’m not sure how this will impact gameplay when docked but my advice, if you die a lot of times, simply back out to the orb-based map and then re-enter the level, it’ll allow the game to bring in the Ghostbusters and remove all those unwanted spirits off the screen!
I know what you’ll say – why doesn’t the game just remove them instead of leaving them on the screen – simple, if you can see where you died, you know when to jump or duck as something bad is about to happen! However, an option to disable this or a limit on how many dead Robbies the game shows may have been an option to limit any possible slowdown and performance dips.
Music-wise, I enjoyed the tunes within the game, they are all mysterious and a little ‘spooky’. I found myself tapping along to the beat quite often and I’ve even had the game on pause whilst I write this so that I can listen to the music in the background. Thankfully, the music is quite relaxing and pleasant to listen to, something all frustrating games need in order to stop you getting too annoyed when you constantly die! Although our protagonist grunts and groans (like Link in the Zelda series) with icons symbolising his emotions and thoughts, the NPCs are all fully voiced with a language created specifically for the game. However, don’t fear, you don’t have to learn a new language as everything is subtitled and easy to read! **Also, I’ve just been informed that the second boss is a singing one (yeah, I’ve not reached them yet because this game is hard!) – however, I’m now determined to get to them and see what they’re like!**
If you like games that thrive on your pain and suffering as you cry in the corner, Robbie Swifthand and the Orb of Mysteries is for you! Not only does it test your patience and memory skills, but it’ll push your reactions to their limit as it introduces new hazards and throws everything at you without any prior warning. Although you may think that 90 levels in a platformer where you simply collect an orb, throw it at a portal, then escape, doesn’t sound long; the one-hit-kills, traps, hazards, giant rolling spiked balls, and other nasty things will ensure your stay is a long and painful one. Despite death being your best friend within this brutally unfair platformer, the mechanics are solid and it really is a joy to both play and laugh at others as they break down in front of you, unable to carry on due to frustration taking control of them from the inside.
Playing in a similar fashion to the amazing Rage in Peace, Robbie Swifthand and the Orb of Mysteries will try it’s hardest to reduce you to a quivering fool as just when you think you’ve made it to the exit, a spike will drop down and impale you in the face, causing you to start all over again. It’s not one for the easily frustrated or those who love to give up before they’ve even begun, but those who love a challenge and want to feel immense satisfaction for finally completing a level they’ve lost a few hours and about 100 lives in, this game is for you.
**It appears the game is out on the PS4 in America and Asia (although the trophies aren’t live on PSN for some reason), so I imagine a UK/EU release on PSN and an Xbox One version are due soon**
Robbie Swifthand and the Orb of Mysteries£15.99
- - Very addictive
- - Leaves you feeling extremely satisfied when you finally overcome a level you were stuck on
- - Will test, and enhance, your memory, reflexes, platforming skills, and patience
- - Looks great in portable mode
- - The story is enjoyable in between levels, with the odd parody and funny interaction with the ghostly spirit
- - There was some framerate issues in portable mode in correlation to how many times I died on the level, thanks to the ghostly dead body which is imprinted at the point of death
- - People who get frustrated easily may/will find the game too brutal and unforgiving