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Swords of Ditto is classic Zelda by way of a Saturday morning cartoon

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A bite-sized adventure full of randomness

The Swords of Ditto

You’ve been here before: an adventurer awakens in a strange place, only to realize that they — and only they! — are the one who can fulfill an ancient prophecy and save the land from evil. This is the premise for The Swords of Ditto, and it is in no way unique. But there’s something about the game’s charm and structure that help it stand out. It’s sort of like a classic Legend of Zelda game, but dropped into the world of a Saturday morning cartoon.

The game's title, The Swords of Ditto, doesn’t actually refer to a weapon. Instead, the swords are the heroes who are meant to defend the land. You start out as one of the swords, washed up on a beach, and a flying bug tells you the deal: you have four days to eradicate an evil magical being. You’re then largely left up to your own to figure out how to do that.

The game feels a lot like a 2D Zelda game, along the lines of A Link to the Past or the NES original. There’s a fairly large and open map that you can explore however you see fit; you’ll get some guidance, but you can ignore it if you want to. The colorful world is full of monsters, like puking zombies and flying skulls, and you’ll regularly come across people in need of help, and dungeons you can explore to find new items for the final battle. It’s all very cute and charming, with a middle school vibe. Your weapons and gear are all toys, and you can equip collectible stickers for new abilities. If you need to fast travel you play a kazoo to call a bus, and you can buy cookies and sushi from a convenience store to replenish your health.

There are two main things that make Ditto different than Zelda: time pressure and randomness. The four day deadline isn’t just a narrative conceit, it also dominates the structure of the game. You have four in-game days to become powerful enough to take on the final boss, and then defeat them. When you fail — which you definitely will in the beginning — you’ll reawaken as a new adventurer a century later, taking up the fight once again. But when you wake up everything has changed: Ditto uses procedurally generated worlds to ensure that it’s different each time you play. So instead of memorizing a specific path through the game, you have to learn more general skills to get you through each playthrough.

Initially the structure can be frustrating. It’s not a lot of fun to have to restart from the beginning after getting so close to finishing the game. But eventually you’ll learn ways to extend your time in the world, and even carry over items from one generation to the next. It’s really satisfying slowly preparing for that big final confrontation, even if you have to die a few times and lose some progress along the way. What’s great about Ditto is that, despite being randomly generated, the worlds you explore still feel cohesive and well-designed. The dungeons are full of clever puzzles to solve, and because it was different each time I played, I kept running into surprises. As much as you can prepare yourself, you still never quite know what to expect.

This structure means that the game offers something different than Zelda. It’s not a sprawling open world you can lose yourself in; instead, it’s a smaller playground, one that’s different each time you explore. It’s bite-sized and random, bright and bubbly — which makes it a great chaser to Breath of the Wild.

The Swords of Ditto is available now on PS4 and PC.