Now that things are off and running for the Nintendo Switch, it’s hard for independent developers and smaller teams to properly gauge what the risk/reward ratio is for the little console that could. On the one hand, fans are singing its praise across every podium and the number of successful titles increases exponentially with every passing month. On the other hand, the lack of convenient voice chat, no virtual console and Sony actively paying some big studios to not publish titles on the Switch leaves some publications to predict an early death. So it’s natural for people to use caution when putting out a title, but caution needs to be balanced with content. There’s no reason to just throw anything into the water and hope it floats, you should probably do a touch of research beforehand. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Switch release of League of Evil has some pretty excellent merit within, and I think, in part, that has a lot to do with the porter and developer, Ratalaika Games.
For those who aren’t aware, League of Evil was a series of puzzle platformer games that were popular on iOS (and maybe Android) close to six years ago, with the last installation coming out back in 2013. It was a pretty straightforward concept: you’re the hero who’s supposed to punch evil scientists to death. You have a limited amount of time to get through a stage that has traps, guards and pitfalls, and you also want to collect a briefcase that contains…secrets, or stuff. Do everything in a good time limit, get three stars. Finish everything and unlock some arbitrary achievements. It was a fun, simple game (enough to create a trilogy) and was a pleasant but shapeless memory of the earlier days of smartphone gaming. So to see it being brought to the Nintendo Switch, honestly, it felt like a cheap cash grab without a lot of forethought. I found that one of the original names on the project, WoblyWare, was still listed in the credits, yet gave no indication of the Switch version on their website. But, again, this is where Ratalaika stepped up and made some smart decisions.
For one, League of Evil is, arguably, the most pleasing to look at of the trilogy. The first installation is blocky and pixel designed, but that works incredibly well for the concept and execution of the game mechanics. You can run and double jump, and your punch also works as a dash, enabling you to use combat as a means to cross gaps as well. If that sounds way simple, that’s because it is, and that’s all League of Evil needs to be. Your target of getting fist A into face B doesn’t change, and you aren’t really hampered by anything of a plot, save for a short introduction at the beginning that states “these guys are evil. Punch them.” Subsequent League of Evil games have been slowly changing the graphics and design to be more animated, but it also has the drawback of showcasing when there wasn’t consistency in the creation and, as a result, have moments that look like cheap Flash games. Keeping things simple means that you can just enjoy the game at face value and, more importantly, focus on how much BETTER this game is with buttons.
League of Evil was conceived with touchscreen virtual buttons in mind, since good Bluetooth controllers weren’t cheap or easy to find back in 2011 AND most games didn’t have APIs for controllers coded in. The levels could be incredibly frustrating to accomplish, no matter how simple, because your finger could easily slip, the input could malfunction or, worst of all, you’d get a phone call, answer, and land back in the game before you were ready. The Switch port obviously takes care of that and it’s a totally different game with physical buttons to work with. Your agent bounds along effortlessly, giving you plenty of options to find new ways to finish some stages. A wall jump was a difficult but necessary acrobatic feat in the old version, but leaping up a vertical expanse now feels like child’s play. I was able to conquer several stages like Spiderman, defying the general pathway expected in favor of being a goddamn superhero. What used to take multiple replays now was a feat accomplished in a fistful of seconds. Thankfully, it’s not like the game is too easy now, but you can finally play in the way the developers intended. League of Evil isn’t “just finish the stage,” but “get the items and get the time we set forth.” You don’t have to dedicate hours of your time on a phone that slowly gets hotter just to bunny hop across spikes. You can work out great timing and smooth moves on your commute, without becoming enraged, like a normal person.
The best part, however, is that this isn’t just a straight, clean port of a mobile game. Ratalaika has baked in something that I could have never imagined would work on the previous platform: a level creator and free distribution platform. If you think you can make a sinister and complex level that everyone wants to get their fingers on, it’s ridiculously easy to get on board. The editor works great on both the big screen and handheld mode, though I highly recommend creating worlds while portable, as swapping between touch placement and then button trials seemed to be the best situation. The playerbase has already created quite a few levels, though a vast majority of them are either insultingly simple (literally a straight line between you, the briefcase and the scientist) or insanely hard and possibly impossible. Although I’ve found a few cool mazelike designs that feel like they fall comfortably within the original vision of the game, and that’s some high praise. This isn’t nearly as vast as the level editor of Mini-Ghost, but still offers a lot of potential replay.
All in all, League of Evil was a good indie find that could have easily been overlooked. The main missions can be over quite quickly, but you still might get a few plays out of trying to get those far-off briefcases, or trimming your score from two to three stars. The level editor is the star addition to the package, and the preservation of the good-if-simple chiptune soundtrack, as well as the classic graphics, made me smile and have a good time. There’s an excellent change that players have never encountered League of Evil, and the Nintendo Switch seems to be the right home for wandering indies to finally dock and make themselves comfortable. If you’re looking for a simple, enjoyable game but want the satisfaction of punching an evil dude, then look no further. League of Evil is proof that you can teach an old dog new tricks, and even get some new mileage out of old tires.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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