Those of you that go to the trouble of connecting the ‘timeline’ of the Legend of Zelda series are no doubt aware of how there’s a sort of meta-narrative at play, in which the hero and villain are locked in an endless battle that reignites when they’re both reborn in new generations. The Swords of Ditto: Mormo’s Curse borrows heavily from Nintendo’s popular series in this way, but takes things a step further by imagining what it would be like if this cycle were infused with roguelike elements. The final result is mostly a success, with some missteps here or there, but on the whole, it manages to fuse the open-world adventure and roguelike genres reasonably well.

The Swords of Ditto: Mormo’s Curse follows the story of “The Sword”, a hero whose name, gender, and race changes with each new iteration, even if the ‘core’ of the hero remains the same. The Sword’s great task is to rid the Isle of Ditto of the evil forces of the witch Mormo, who wishes to subjugate the land and all its inhabitants under her cruel and selfish rule. Should the Sword be defeated in the climactic confrontation, 100 years of sorrow and darkness will follow as the people wait for a new Sword to rise up, while if the Sword strikes down Mormo, she’ll enter a 100-year sleep and rise again once she rejuvenates. It sounds fairly cut and dried at the start, and the snarky character interactions are keen to remind you of this, but the longer you play, the more you come to understand that there are much larger gears turning behind the scenes of this seemingly simple conflict.

At the bottom of many treasure chests you find on your adventures, there are brief data logs that take the shape of newspaper articles, conversations, and recordings from varying sources, all of which slowly start coming together to form a broader narrative that provides more context for Ditto and the repeated predicament it finds itself mired in. It all ties back to a god named Fate, a race of mysterious deities called ‘Ancient Ones’, and a war taking place with an empire called Arcadia, taking the storytelling to slightly darker places than the cheery, colourful visuals might have you expecting. All of it sets up for a late-game plot twist that proves to be delightfully surprising – even if it’s somewhat telegraphed – making the successive runs well worth the time.

As you plow your way through all the baddies and secrets on your adventure, your Sword will gradually accrue experience points and level up, raising their damage, health, and Sticker Slots, the latter of which allow you to equip various stickers that grant buffs and resistances to make things a little easier. With the exception of a couple of boss encounters, most enemies don’t put up too much of a fight, but they manage to keep you on your toes just enough that you need to make full use of your dodge roll and items. We were rather pleased at the enemy variety on offer here; it really is quite the rogue's gallery, and each one requires slightly different tactics if you want to escape unscathed. The Swords of Ditto: Mormo’s Curse obviously isn’t going for Dark Souls levels of depth with its combat, but what’s here is notably more challenging and engaging than the spam-fest of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.

Unfortunately, the puzzle and dungeon design aren’t nearly as gripping, although they still manage to satisfy in many ways. Those of you expecting some creative brain-teasers will be sorely disappointed to learn that most dungeons are defined by their rehashes of the tried and true “light all the torches” or “push the blocks onto the switches” sort of puzzles that, while still entertaining, hardly pose much of a challenge. We wouldn’t say that the puzzles in these dungeons are boring; what’s here is done as well as it can, but it just feels a bit ho-hum. Granted, you could chalk up the lacklustre dungeons to the procedural generation, but we nonetheless would’ve liked to have seen more creativity in this department; randomly generated or not, these dungeons just aren’t very inspiring or memorable.

After waking up as a new hero, you can technically run straight to Mormo and challenge her right off the bat, but it’s highly recommended that you take the time to explore the world of the new generation and fittingly gear up your Sword before going in for the kill. Each hero’s world is procedurally generated—stitching together overworld map tiles and dungeon layouts alike—and comes packed with all manner of monsters, hidden caves, and precious loot to keep the pace moving briskly. There are two dungeons to explore, each housing powerful “Toys” that have both combat and puzzle-solving uses, and then there are two dungeons after that, each of which are focused on making you use the Toys you gathered to solve puzzles. The point of clearing these latter two dungeons is to defeat the powerful bosses that guard Mormo’s ‘Anchors’ and destroy them, which weakens her considerably when you challenge her in the final fight.

It’s a straightforward adventure to be sure, and one that occupies a bit of a weird length given the genre-bending going on here, but what we most enjoy about The Swords of Ditto: Mormo’s Curse is how it doesn’t quite ‘reset’ when you do finally manage to clear Mormo out. Each new run brings with it new challenges, such as a curse Mormo can cast in which you’re perpetually stalked by an invincible enemy, and you there are different Toy Dungeons and overworld areas to visit each time, making subsequent runs feel sufficiently fresh and interesting. Many roguelikes fail to create a meaningful ‘loop’ for when the player finally reaches the end, but The Swords of Ditto: Mormo’s Curse is not among them; this is a game that keeps on giving and keeps opening up piece by piece in exciting ways.

We do, however, feel the “Rogue-Zelda” formula is a bit restricting for both sides of that ridiculous word, creating a sense that the developer would’ve been better off focusing on one or the other. The Zelda side of things is hamstrung by the roguelike elements, as the overworld feels too small and the procedural dungeon designs come off as being flat, while the roguelike elements are similarly hamstrung by the Zelda elements, as each run is measured in hours, not minutes, and the randomization doesn’t feel all too significant. This identity crisis that The Swords of Ditto: Mormo’s Curse endures certainly isn’t deal-breaking by any means, but it’s the sort of game that often feels unfocused; it wants to try several things at once and does them all decently, but not greatly.

One area in which The Swords of Ditto: Mormo’s Curse manages to positively excel is in its presentation, offering up some crisp, refreshing visuals that all but jump out at you from the screen. The art style seems to borrow from the likes of Adventure Time and Ittle Dew, going for colourful, cutesy environments that have a particularly goofy quality to them. Bug-eyed characters, expressive animations, and wonderfully detailed worlds are the name of the game here, looking in many places like a playable HD cartoon. The aesthetic of ‘play’ shines through in nearly every way here especially in things as minor as the look of the text in the UI, or the little doodles of hotdogs and lightning bolts scribbled onto the margins of the map. Matching this is an equally bright and bubbly soundtrack that manages to occasionally surprise with its diversity, such as when it throws in kazoos every now and then.

It bears mentioning, too, that The Swords of Ditto: Mormo’s Curse features some especially noticeable load times; not enough to actively hinder the experience, but just enough to annoy. Entering and exiting any building or area is sure to be followed by a lengthy black screen as the new environment is pulled up, but we particularly noticed it in dungeons, where your character will just hang out in a doorway for several seconds as the screen freezes while the next room loads. It’s the sort of thing that you just get used to as the adventure continues, and the individual load times are mercifully kept short, but the sheer frequency of five to eight second bits of downtime tends to get on the nerves.

Conclusion

For those of you looking for something to fill the void while you wait for the Link’s Awakening remake later this year, The Swords of Ditto: Mormo’s Curse is a solid recommendation. It isn’t perfect, but this is a charming, deep, and entertaining roguelike adventure, and it’s a lot more than meets the eye. While it does occasionally seem to suffer an identity crisis, and the puzzle designs are rather disappointing, The Swords of Ditto: Mormo’s Curse still makes a reasonable and compelling case for why it belongs in your Switch library. We’d give this one a recommendation, both to Zelda fans and to those looking for a roguelike that’s a little less focused on twitchy reaction skills; One Bit Beyond has done a good job here and we’re excited to see more from the studio.