Without knowing anything about Robbie Swifthand and the Orb of Mysteries, published by KISS Publishing, I jumped in straightaway to see what it was all about. From first impressions, it looked like a simple platform puzzler, and to be honest, I was holding out for this to be a homage to a game from the Amiga called Rick Dangerous. Nope. It’s nothing like that.
Robbie Swifthand is savage. Without dawdling about, I started up the game without reviewing any options (there aren’t any worth noting in hindsight) and chose the difficulty level I required. If I’m starting with a certain level, chances are I will stick it out in the end. I may try a harder difficulty, but in this instance, I opted for the entry-level choice, Not So Hard. More on the difficulty later. Robbie finds himself in a temple with a purple spirit that communicates to him, asking for his help. He’s very laid back and not remotely interested until there is the mention of treasure, and then his eyes light up. Fundamentally, he’s a thief, and your task is to go through each level collecting a small glowing orb that you throw at a larger one. The latter then explodes and allows you to move on to the next stage.
A Typical Platformer. At First…
There isn’t one set way you can go with the game. In the beginning, you have three doors, but only one is open. When you complete a series of stages, you fight the guardian of that level, collect the orb, then move onto the next. The stage selection is a map-like path where you need to complete a handful of stages which then fork into a new direction. It’s entirely up to you which way you go, but if you get stuck, as I did, you’ll end up backtracking in order to progress.
The early stages are welcoming enough. You can only jump and crawl in the game, plus hang off ledges that are a little high up, which is a useful skill to have since some stages have hidden spike traps. For the slightly out of reach areas, you can do a higher jump by crouching first. It’s quite straightforward, but when you grab the stage’s orb and then need to throw it, your muscle memory gets a bit confused. Well, mine did, and I cocked it up a few times. Controls are simple, but they are pretty tight. There’s no floatiness when jumping back and forth. The issue for me, and it’s bound to be an issue for others, is the difficulty. You will die in this game a lot. It’s not a rogue-type game, though. Other than returning to the beginning of the stage upon death, that’s the only similarity the game has to actual rogue-types. The only things you lose are your pride and your patience.
Patience Is a Virtue
Take, for example, the first few levels. There aren’t any hand-holding tutorials as such, so you’re introduced to falling blocks and spikes early on. Refreshing to some extent but infuriating nonetheless. Sound plays an integral part in the game as you’ll need to listen for the sound of falling blocks. Sometimes you need these blocks to get elevated, other times they are traps to wind you up. The developers definitely would get a kick out of seeing so many of us squirm – in the menu system, there is even the option to rage quit.
In the first level (I’m unsure how many stages I ended up doing as I backtracked a couple), I died about 80 times. I know this as each time you die, a rapidly increasing number shows. I’m sure this would be higher than the average gamer, but I have no comparison at the moment. Generally speaking, I’d say half of the deaths were on me in terms of patience. There isn’t a clock to beat, but after you die so many times on a level that appears so seemingly easy, you tend to rush it and make mistakes. I’d walk into spikes, jump too soon or would get close to the end of a stage, throw the small orb and it would miss its target, roll off the platform and regenerate. I’d then have to go back to get another one, dying in the process.
However, I was determined to get through the first level at the least, and I did get there. Your first boss encounter is with an Aztec-inspired guardian who hovers above you. He has limited attacks, but man, they get old fast as it’s so easy to get hit. Bear in mind Robbie doesn’t have any abilities or weapons, you have to allow for the boss to complete a wave and he’ll drop a triangular shard of light and briefly rest. You need to pick that up and throw it at him the same way as the orbs. Sounds simple enough, but I was getting close to throwing the controller a few times – and remember, this was the normal mode!
101 Ways to Die
When I did beat the boss, I had a new toy that allowed me to double jump effectively. The next level was a series of floating platform-type lifts, bear traps, wind tunnels and, of course, spikes. After I got to my 101st death, I decided to take a breather and come back to it. Before that, I wanted to try the game on the hardest level, Insanity, to have a comparison. Let’s keep this simple: Even the opening tutorial level was significantly harder with new falling blocks and blades…I just fast-tracked my well-deserved break.
As mentioned at the beginning of this review, I was somewhat expecting a Rick Dangerous-type game. While I didn’t get that with Robbie Swifthand, the visual style is very reminiscent of the 16-bit systems – notably when platform games were the dominant genre. Of course, the graphics are upped a little more than 16-bit, what with the lighting alone. There’s no voice acting, just mumbles and text. I won’t go on about the sound effects as all I think about is the sound of Robbie being hit by a spike for the 70th time. It’s a trigger, to some extent.
Robbie Swifthand and the Orb of Mysteries is for die-hard platform fans. I like platform games, and they aren’t without their difficulties or frustrations. This game, on the other hand, is cruel. It really will test your patience and skill. If you’re mature and patient about it, you’ll get far, but if you rush it or get frustrated, you will rage quit. I didn’t, by the way. I was close, but rage quitting isn’t my generation – there have only been two occasions where I’ve thrown a controller. This game wasn’t one of them, but it was close.
In context, Katana Zero was a tough game, but I thoroughly enjoyed that and finished it in one sitting(-ish). Dark Souls Remastered and rogue-like games have had me climbing the walls, but I’ve stuck them out as there is some reward there. Even Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice (which I am not even close to finishing) is an incredibly hard game, but I haven’t completely given up on it. Robbie Swifthand and the Orb of Mysteries, however, isn’t something I will be sticking with.
Developer: Pixel Reign
Publisher: KISS Publishing
Platform: PC, Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 1st August 2019