The Switch’s best non-Zelda Zelda
“‘Ittle Dew’? What a dreadful name for a game!” I thought, as I booted up the Switch port of the series’ latest entry. “Why the hell did they call it that?”
I’m a little embarrassed to admit I’d been playing for as long as six or seven hours before the penny finally dropped (try saying its name out loud if you haven’t gotten it yet).
Confusing name and my slow uptake aside, Ittle Dew 2+ for the Switch is a funny, entertaining tribute to classic adventure games. If it wasn’t for such an over-reliance on frustrating and samey puzzles, it could have been even better.
The first thing you should know about Ittle Dew 2+ is that it riffs on Zelda. I say this because Ittle Dew 2+ desperately wants you to know just how just how much it riffs on Zelda. Its eight-dungeon fantasy overworld and stick-wielding protagonist clad in green are more than a little familiar, sure. But it’s the NPCs with their satirical take on ‘nuisance’ adventurers – always saving the day and vandalising the belongings in people’s homes while they’re at it – which remove any shadow of a doubt.
This thoroughly tongue-in-cheek tone sets ID2+ apart from other retro adventures and gives it a personality all of its own. Few fantasy games are so refreshingly self-aware and eager to break the fourth wall. Not only do the protagonists immediately call attention to the pointlessness of the quest in hand (collecting ‘raft parts’ from dungeons), they mock the reuse of bosses – attributed to lowering development costs – and even brazenly spoil the final boss’ identity.
ID2+’s sense of humour ranges from silly to absurd and a little surreal, and the colourful cartoon visuals and character design complement this perfectly (spinning platypus turtles and drinking bird robots, anyone?). Wit and presentation aren’t merely used as a crutch to compensate for limp gameplay, either – there’s meat on those bones too. The map is packed with an almost overwhelming number of secrets to discover, but in the first of many concessions to the modern player it clearly charts every door and marks them off as they’re completed.
After recently playing Elliot Quest on Switch – another Zelda-like, but one which obstinately refuses to hold the player’s hand – I can’t tell you how relieved I was by ID2+’s more forgiving approach. You’re free to tackle the eight main dungeons in any order, but it clearly points you in the direction of the next one should you wish to follow its recommendation. In-game hints give clues to locating secrets and can help you out when you’re stuck. There’s even that most infamous of modern adventure mainstays, fast travel.
The controls can be finicky, making it difficult to line up ranged attacks and all too easy to accidentally walk into spikes or chasms. Combat is also a little unpredictable, with enemies not fully telegraphing their attacks, nor it being abundantly clear exactly how much damage you’re taking. Whilst this can cause unexpected deaths, frequent checkpoints go a long way towards alleviating any frustration here.
These generous design choices mean that ID2+ can be breezed through at a pleasant pace. That is, at least, until you face one of the many sliding block puzzles plaguing its dungeons. Whilst nothing new to adventure games, ID2+’s penchant for pushing around blocks borders on fetishistic, whether it’s to activate multiple floor switches or clear the way to an exit.
Sure, an effort has been made to diversify these as the game progresses, introducing ice blocks, breakable blocks, switch blocks and all manner of ways to manipulate them with your abilities. But they seriously start to grate, especially when some of them are just downright hard. Many puzzles seemingly only have one solution, and you’ll need a sizeable number of moves and some serious out-of-the-box (block?) thinking to get there. It’s a shame that these interrupt ID2+’s gratifying flow.
Honestly though, frustrating puzzles are the only serious blemish in an otherwise delightful experience chock-full of character and playfulness. Whilst the main quest is short and sweet, the extensive array of secrets, collectibles and bonus challenge dungeons bulk out the adventure nicely. Ittle Dew 2+ is easily the best non-Zelda Zelda the Switch has seen to date.