Another day, another eShop release. Sling Ming joins the swelling ranks of the online storefront at a time when Nintendo itself has acknowledged increasing discoverability issues. Coming from ‘twindie’ developer Good Night Brave Warrior, does this 2D swinger have what it takes to stand out in the crowd of charming puzzle-platformers?
First off, ignore the eShop description – it’s not really a platformer. You take control of Princess Ming of Topius. Or, rather, you take control of her connection to the Oxylane, an abandoned transit system previously used to travel the polluted planet by hooking yourself to a network of overhead rails. Safely tethered to the line, it also supplies breathable air to the princess inside her protective suit.
Nodes sit at junctions along the network and selecting one causes the tether to move along the rail, dragging Ming with it. By configuring these nodes, you will swing (and, indeed, sling) her through nearly 50 stages across four planets in a quest to recover the three crown jewels of Compassion, Courage and Honesty (hmm, sounds familiar...) and solve the mystery of the strange vault lying beneath the Royal Castle.
Successful navigation depends on consideration of Ming’s starting position, momentum and rotation. Careful timing will have her looping majestically, hitting buttons, pulling levers and nabbing collectibles as she goes. Mistiming your swing will leave her snagged on terrain or dangling beside whatever goodies you were aiming for. Worst-case scenario, she’ll be torn from the Oxylane courtesy of the myriad hazards found on each planet, which run the gamut from carnivorous plant life to laser beams.
And yes, of course, there’s lava. Restarts are rapid and your previous node placement is retained when you respawn so you can easily tweak your network and try again. Abilities unlock as you progress enabling you to throw projectiles, travel along railings at double speed, grab handles and manipulate movable platforms.
The influence of World of Goo, Angry Birds, and even the pointer-based slingshot and gravity-switch sections of Super Mario Galaxy can be felt in these mechanics. Lofty company indeed, and that Sling Ming can take inspiration from those greats while forging an identity of its own is mightily impressive. Those games all rely on impeccably stable and consistent physics models and, happily, those systems are watertight here as well.
Throughout our playthrough, not one of the 333 deaths recorded was down to buggy collision or mis-registered input. When you die – and make no mistake, you will die a lot – it’s entirely your own fault. Several times you’ll find obstacles that seem impassable at first, but persistence and experimentation are rewarded. Collecting the coins scattered throughout the environments enables you to skip any stage that tries your patience, so you can always come back later with a fresh head, but there’s a great feeling of satisfaction in conquering a tough section.
Hidden throughout the levels are collectible molecules called Itoms which are used to access the boss fight in each world and progress to the next. These tricky bouts put you under pressure from a mobile threat in a small arena. It may take a while to work out exactly what is required, but watching for patterns and following clues will reveal weak points and, with practice, they’ll be dealt with swiftly.
Your choice of controls affects the difficulty of these encounters. The boot-up screen asks whether you wish to use the touchscreen or controller, and you can change at any time via the pause menu. Your selection locks out the other option, avoiding accidental inputs. Joy-Con control has been thoughtfully implemented – pushing the left analog stick snaps between neighbouring nodes in the chain while holding 'Y' enables free movement across the screen – but pointer controls would have enabled faster input in docked mode. As it is, the speed of touch makes it the preferred way to play, especially in more hectic scenarios.
The story is told through dialogue with a handful of characters, including Ming's AI companion, pathOS. These exchanges are brief and a handy fast-forward button is provided if you’re replaying a stage. It’s a charming, unobtrusive little yarn that avoids bogging the game down with exposition. Once the main quest has wrapped, there are plenty of collectibles to mop up using your accumulated skills, and each stage features additional challenges that task you with reaching the end within a set number of moves or time limit.
Sling Ming is a polished game with rock-solid physics and smart puzzles, all shot through with a simple, endearing story and a catchy soundtrack. Difficulty is carefully balanced with addictive mechanics that reward perseverance, leaving a game that can stand proudly with the best indie offerings on the eShop.