WayForward’s Mighty series has seen a variety of different incarnations over the years; ranging from the dual-screen, dimension-flipping antics of Mighty Flip Champs!, the challenging, planet-hopping action of Mighty Milky Way, and more recently, the crime-stopping puzzle shooter Mighty Switch Force! and its sequel, both on Wii U and 3DS. Regardless, through every iteration, the series has been an excellent display of puzzle-platforming at its best.
It’s no surprise to hear that another entry in the MSF! line of titles is in development, but this time, WayForward are doing things a little differently; by using Steam’s Early Access service, the California-based developers are eager to use fan input and feedback to shape the newest entry, Mighty Switch Force! Academy, offering players the chance to have a direct hand in the next evolution of the Mighty series.
Whilst at present the game is still in an early, alpha form, it’s clear to see that there’s a lot of potential for yet another great entry in the series. The basic gameplay concepts are relatively unchanged from previous MSF! titles; you control Officer Patricia Wagon, a cyborg police officer tasked with rounding up the Hooligan sisters, a group of escaped convicts. However, in order to catch them in the quickest time possible, you must make use of your ‘Switch’ ability, phasing blocks in and out of existence and using them to navigate the stage. Later levels feature varying types of blocks to create more complicated puzzles, such as ones that send you flying in a fixed direction or require being stood on to prevent them from disappearing. Timing is crucial to avoid getting crushed by these obstacles, and you need as sharp a mind to overcome each stage’s fiendish puzzles as you do platforming skills to navigate their maze-like structure and keep your time under each courses’ ‘par’, offering a nice incentive for speed-runners or those looking for more of a challenge, as well as providing some nice replayability.
Whilst the current changes to the traditional formula are hardly groundbreaking, they’re nice additions that help to give the game a fresh perspective; literally. In contrast to previous MSF! titles, Academy makes use of full-screen stages ideal for TV play that not only give the game a grander sense of scale, but introduces the arcade-like mechanic of being able to walk off one side of the screen and emerge on the other; again, hardly groundbreaking, but this surprisingly impactful change can introduce whole new options for clearing each stage as quickly as possible, and is a vital mechanic if you plan on speed-running each course. It’ll be interesting to keep an eye on how this new idea comes into play as more stages are added to the game over time.
The variety of stages is a little lacking for the time being; the game currently has a nice mixture of 8 new levels and 5 taken straight out of Mighty Switch Force! 1 & 2 (albeit updated to utilise this latest entry’s new mechanics and perspective style), but it’s difficult not to crave a bit more to challenge yourself with; this will likely come with time, considering WayForward’s aspirations for the game to be shaped over time, and it’s more than likely we’ll be seeing more added to the title eventually. As such, the visuals differ slightly between the two sets of stages, with the classic levels re-using the bright and vivid details of the original game’s futuristic setting and the new levels, intended to be training simulations (hence the Academy subtitle), take on a quite stylish neon look that certainly provides a good backdrop for the game’s hectic multiplayer mode.
On the topic of multiplayer, it’s safe to say that this is an addition that is certainly welcome in the franchise. Whilst likely difficult to achieve in the 3DS releases and their Wii U ports, the large stages and new puzzle mechanics serve up an enjoyable multiplayer experience, and the 4-player co-op and teased Vs. mode that will likely be right at home on consoles once the game is finished. The multiplayer adds another degree of complexity and challenge to the game’s puzzles requiring keen awareness of your fellow players movements, with communication and teamwork vital to ensure you don’t accidentally end up crushing each other (perhaps that’s all part of the fun?). It’ll be interesting to see how Vs. mode will work, but even the simple addition of leaderboards could be enough to sate the appetites of speed-running fans.
Many people may have first heard of the Mighty series through its fantastic soundtracks by Jake ‘virt’ Kaufman, (which you can check out for free on his Bandcamp right now, and are definitely worth a listen) and I was certainly happy to find that a selection of tracks from the first two MSF! titles make an appearance in this new title. I hope that by the time of its final release we’ll even have some brand new tracks in there, because so far Kaufman’s work with WayForward has only got better with each instalment. Stephanie Komure once again plays the role of Officer Wagon’s VA. Her voice is a lot of fun and gives a nice personality to the character, making a welcome return in this latest entry.
It’s still early days for Mighty Switch Force! Academy, and right now, there’s still work to be done; the thing is, that’s the point.
I did encounter a few minor graphical glitches here and there and it has to be said that we’ll likely be waiting for the final product before we get the full layer of WayForward polish, but this is all part of the development process that WayForward have decided to give the fans a hand in. I can see a lot of potential in Academy, both as an evolution of the Mighty Switch Force! formula and as a fun, original multiplayer experience. The Mighty series hasn’t disappointed before, and hopefully we’ll have the pleasure of seeing this entry in the series shaped into another quality title firsthand. This is definitely one to watch.
A copy of Mighty Switch Force! Academy was kindly provided for this preview by WayForward. Thanks!