Mighty Switch Force! Hyper Drive Edition

words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by WayForward for PC and Wii U, originally released in 2012.
Mighty Switch Force got its start on the 3DS as a downloadable title showcasing the system’s stereoscopic 3D effects while providing a short fast-paced puzzle platforming adventure. It is the third entry in WayForward’s “Mighty” series, following Mighty Milky Way and Mighty Flip Champs. The game introduces police officer Patricia Wagon (a play on “paddy wagon”) as she attempts to round up five escaped female prisoners in each level, with a supplementary goal of completing each of the 16 levels under a specified par time. Completing each of these levels unlocks five tougher bonus levels (originally released as free DLC on the 3DS).

Mighty Switch Force! Hyper Drive Edition (a.k.a. Mighty Switch Force HD) is a high definition re-release of the original game with redrawn HD graphics. In addition, the game offers an entirely new set of Hyper levels, remixing the original levels into a more challenging experience with tougher layouts and more difficult environmental puzzles.

The Hyper Drive Edition was originally released on Wii U where the system mimicked its portable counterpart’s dual screen display, showing a map on the game pad that helped the player locate the escaped convicts. Other versions of the game feature onscreen indicators when the player gets close to a convict, which operates in a functionally similar manner.

Patty has a 1x nonvariable jump, which is fairly typical of games in the puzzle platformer genre. She also comes equipped with a gun for blasting away enemies to the left or right, although combat is not the game's main focus... Patty’s primary tool comes in the form of her switch ability, which allows her to switch the states of certain blocks in the environment. When performing a switch, transparent blocks turn solid and solid blocks become transparent. Patty passes through transparent blocks and can use solid blocks as platforms, and performing properly-timed switches is the key to making progress.

Even in the early going, Patty must make multiple midair switches – and time pauses briefly when this is done – in order to make proper landings and ascend to higher platforms. While this is challenging on its own, the game slowly introduces new block types during its first half, adding further twists on the core gameplay.

First off, there are two types of crumbling blocks: small ones that Patty can destroy with her pistol, and large ones that can only be destroyed by blasting an exploding enemy while he is standing next to it. Patty can also shoot enemies through special green blocks that inhibit her movement but allow projectiles to pass through.

Next up are purple arrow blocks. Patty can switch them between solid and transparent, just like other blocks, but standing on the block and shifting it into physical space causes Patty to jet off in the direction of the arrow, and she will not stop until she hits a solid object. Often, other blocks are in Patty’s way, requiring the player to perform midair switches to allow her to pass safely through.

Many challenges are built around manipulating Patty – and occasionally some enemies – through a series of arrow blocks. Since Patty is flung out of these blocks quickly, often off the side of the screen, it can be difficult for the player to react in time to make multiple dashes in succession. Unfortunately, this means that many of the later levels can only be completed by trial and error as the player learns the level layouts and understands where to expect these blocks. The effect of this problematic design is limited somewhat by the short length of most levels and the fact that replaying levels for a par time is part of the game’s inherent challenge. However, this makes longer levels more frustrating as they are all but impossible to complete on your first attempt.

Lastly, there are red and blue blocks that have indicators on the front of them which shift from green to red when Patty stands on them. If Patty stands on one of these blocks for a few seconds, it will become locked – as will all other blocks of the same color – and performing a switch will phase all of the other blocks in the environment except for the locked ones. This allows for some complex challenges where the player must switch colored blocks in and out phase with one another while still dealing with other block types.

Phasing a block into the physical space while Patty is standing in front of it will shove her into the screen in the foreground, taking off one of her three hearts and sending her back to the most recent checkpoint. This is also the case when she finds herself falling into a bed of spikes. Checkpoints are represented by goofy-looking googley-eyed puppies with their tongues hanging out.

Touching an enemy or getting caught in an explosion merely reduces Patty’s life meter by one unit on the spot. If Patty loses all three hearts, she must start the level again from scratch. Enemies occasionally drop spinning floppy disks that restore one unit of health – to which Patty exclaims “Yummy!” for some reason – and these floppy disks can also be found spread around the environment.

Grabbing all five of the convicts does not mean that the level is over... Patty must still make her way to a robotic escape vehicle that appears somewhere in the level, usually near the final girl in linear levels, or in a central location in nonlinear levels. The timer keeps running down while the player seeks out the escape vehicle – and it is still possible to die and need to restart the level – so players looking for the best par times will generally need to do so on a second attempt in order to use their foreknowledge to locate the robot quickly.

Most levels’ par times range between 30 seconds and two minutes, although these times are difficult to attain on most levels without a good bit of replay. Completing all of the levels also unlocks a charged shot ability, allowing Patty to unleash a single large projectile instead of many smaller ones. This new projectile makes it easier to go back to earlier levels and earn par times because it can penetrate and destroy multiple enemies, and it can destroy larger shielded enemies which are impervious to your regular bullets. This is important because some shelled enemies must be defeated in order to open doors, and this is otherwise only done by phasing a block into them, or sending them through a complex series of purple arrow blocks, which adds a few precious seconds to your completion time.

Some levels are very straightforward, and the convicts are found along a linear path, whereas other levels feature a more open design that requires players to explore the environment in order to find all of the girls, who may be collected in any order. These larger environments are often packed with purple arrow blocks and block-breaking puzzles involving exploding enemies. These levels can be difficult to navigate as puzzle solutions often appear offscreen, requiring a bit of trial and error to complete.

On the final level (and the final bonus level) things are changed up a bit, as switching is taken out of the player’s hands and instead occurs automatically every few seconds. Players must pay close attention to the siren on Patty’s helmet as it flashes three times – with accompanying beeps – just before everything in the environment is phased. This leads to a lengthy and challenging final sequence as the player must make a long vertical ascent with very little margin for error through a series of blocks whose layout grows steadily more complex.

Here again, many of the purple arrow block challenges require trial and error, and these are unfortunately placed near the end of the level, meaning that players may get close to the end many times and be forced back to the start after taking too much damage. Reaching the end of the level reveals a boss fight – the only one in the game – which is easy to defeat in comparison to the challenge required to reach him.

The new HD graphics have quite a bit of charm and personality (and Patty’s pixelated version is also unlockable). Each of the five escaped convicts have cute animations, such as tugging on their ball and chain or sitting and blowing bubbles. Patty runs with a bit of an odd hunch, and her idle animation sees her sweating and pulling off her helmet to wipe her brow. Enemy designs and animations are similarly charming, and each level ends with a cute bit of artwork, although there are only a few unique pieces.

Mighty Switch Force was developed by WayForward, a California-based company founded in 1990. The developer’s catalogue consists mostly of licensed titles, including Contra 4, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, DuckTales: Remastered, and the Adventure Time games. In 2009, the company reimagined the NES game A Boy and His Blob: Trouble on Blobolonia with their Wii release of A Boy and His Blob. WayForward is perhaps best known for their original IP’s, which include the Mighty series and the Shantae series.

Music for the game was composed by Jake “Virt” Kaufman, who also composed the soundtracks for the Shantae series as well as Contra 4, Retro City Rampage, Ultionus, Shovel Knight, and numerous other games.