Platformers are deceptively simple and addictive beasts. Ever since millions of '80s kids discovered the hard way that walking in to a brown, eyebrow-sporting mushroom was unceremoniously fatal, jumping, spinning, dodging and stomping has become as synonymous with growing up as lunch boxes and grazed knees. The genre has evolved, changed dimensions, been remixed, remade and demade, but at its best, the core gameplay experience of playing a good platform game can be equally joyous and teeth-grindingly frustrating.
Platformers have experienced something of a renaissance since the dominance of smartphones a decade ago - and even more recently the explosion in digital distribution - with indie developers who grew up obsessed with running and jumping turning their passion into passion projects. With the launch of the Nintendo Switch, players have home comfort, convenience of portability and pinpoint controls at their disposal - something virtual buttons could never replicate fully.
League of Evil, from Ravenous Games and prolific Switch publisher Ratalaika, is a console port of a 2011 iOS series released to high acclaim, and from playing the Switch version, it is clear to see why. Part of a group of contemporaries that include Super Meat Boy, VVVVVV and Cave Story, League of Evil is a tough, thrillingly paced and uncompromising jump ’n’ punch title that combines a charming pixelated style with fluid wall jumping and acrobatic, reflex-based traversal.
The titular hero is a bionic super agent, assigned with bringing down the deadly ‘League of Evil’. For all the ‘world saving’ rhetoric, the core game is made up of 140 missions through four themed chapters, including industrial and jungle settings. each mission has three stars to get, and the game also has a wealth of achievements to obtain, ranging from collecting briefcases to defeating enemies. Overall, the game is presented with crisp, vibrant pixel art visuals and smooth, pacy animation which is especially noticeable when docked.
The deviously set traps, lightning fast enemies and rotating obstacles instantly kill our hero, while the use of platforms and wall jumping must be expertly executed to progress. The verticality of the levels offers an especially tense balance of risk / reward, and while split second timing is crucial, snatching victory from the jaws of taser-spiked defeat is gloriously satisfying. Despite the bright pixel art style, the red stuff does fly, with knocking heads off of gun-toting soldiers a common occurrence. The gore can be turned off in the options menu for younger gamers.
It is unashamedly no nonsense, with levels designed to be completed as fluidly and quickly as possible, and the pumping techno chiptune soundtrack adds a genuine thrill and sense of urgency to proceedings. There are two objectives to each mission: retrieve the briefcase and kill the scientist. Going from a spinning double jump in to a flying kick to destroy a gun-wielding enemy or dodging laser-shooting turret feels slick and much more precise using physical buttons.
One of League of Evils greatest assets lies in its instant addictiveness. You’ll die, press ‘Try again’ and due to no load times, you are straight back in to the action. The death count can reach double or maybe even triple figures within a matter of minutes, and while this might sound frustrating, the game never makes a particular mission feel impossible. With the added goal of collecting a briefcase, taking a slightly different path or approach can lead to success. You’ll laugh hysterically, you’ll scream in anguish, you’ll blurt out language that will make loved ones blush, but for the seven stages of grief you’ll go through playing League of Evil, it is constantly and consistently fun.
League of Evil on Switch also has a nice little trick up its sleeve in the form of a robust level creator. The empty levels start out as grids and are available in small, medium or large sizes. An intuitive toolbar at the bottom of the screen offers all the scenery, enemies, obstacles and turrets present in the main game, and by tapping ‘A’, the full item window will appear. The decor can be changed on the fly to resemble the different ‘mission styles’ seen in the main campaign. Press ‘B’ to bring the menu up and down, the left stick or the touch screen to move around, a tap or ’A’ to place and you’re good to go. Test and tweak to your heart's content, but the player must be able to finish their own level and collect the briefcase in order for the level to be uploaded - just like Super Mario Maker.
The game allows players to download level packs based on developer picks, random, or most voted on. There’s also the option to directly type in a mission code to download and save to play later. Using the level editor both in handheld and docked mode is enjoyable and straightforward, and saying it lacks the variety of Mario Maker is missing the point; from a pure gameplay perspective, the user-generated content will give an already fun and challenging game extra longevity, regardless of player's habits.
League of Evil on Nintendo Switch is a savagely addictive, gleefully fun and at times brutally challenging platform game, with super tight controls, bold visuals and an accessible level editor that paves the way for a forever increasing Switch community to embrace. League of Evil feels perfectly suited to the big or small screen, and the bite-sized missions are great for any length of play session, be it solo, taking turns in a group, or just kicking back to make a level which will enrage your friends. While it may test some player's skill level and patience a little too much, persistence and determination are rewarded in a way only the best of the genre can.