Considering the Nintendo eShop was restructured around the 3DS, it's disappointing to see that it still has a pitiful selection of new 3D games available. As one of the few non-retro downloadable games designed to make specific use of the handheld's 3D capabilities, Mighty Switch Force makes a lasting impression with its creative switch mechanic. The ability to swap blocks between the foreground and the background turns basic platforming action into brain-bending puzzle chaos, and that’s a good thing--while it lasts.
Officer Patricia ("Patty") Wagon just isn't having a good day. When her ride gets ambushed and overturned, the futuristic constable finds all of her prisoners running for the hills. Each of Mighty Switch Force's 16 short stages has you guiding Patty through a slew of monsters, traps, and puzzles to wrangle up a quintet of criminal escapees called the "hooligan sisters" who've scattered themselves in all directions. Uncovering their hiding spots and figuring out how to best manipulate the stage itself in order to reach them gives the game loads of unexpected depth. What looks like a side-scrolling action shooter on the surface soon melts away to yield thought-provoking, platforming puzzle work that tests your reflexes. It's a refreshing and pleasantly upbeat combination. Despite a complete lack of a proper story setup or tutorial to explain its puzzle mechanics, Mighty Switch Force's gameplay is accessible enough for you to hop right in and pick things up on the fly.
Patty is armed with a basic blaster and can jump around a bit, but gunning down baddies is secondary to overcoming obstacles and tracking down the escapees. Thankfully, Patty's fancy noggin topper adds a lot more to her resume than keen fashion sense. Every tap of either the left or right shoulder button makes the heroine's hat blip and switches any moveable blocks in the background to the foreground and vice versa. At first, it's just a simple way to cross gaps and climb to higher ledges, but later stages grow in complexity and challenge as the game adds new block types and introduces more elaborate puzzles to tackle.
Block variety and creative level designs force you to figure out advanced techniques like smashing foes into the foreground with well-timed switches (creating a cool 3D screen-cracking visual effect in the process) and launching yourself through the air with catapult blocks. Pulling off crazy stunts like cannonballing across the screen while rapidly triggering blocks in your path to phase in and out with perfect precision to let you pass takes some serious practice. The trial-and-error nature of some stages grows frustrating toward the final stretches of the game, particularly because there's an ever-ticking timer that pours on the pressure.
The fact that you're timed gives Mighty Switch Force a speed-run element that feels counterintuitive to its more thoughtful puzzle nature. Being timed in and of itself isn't so much the problem; it's that the game compares your level time to a target par completion time that's often very hard to match. Charging through a level, collecting all of the escaped prisoners, and hightailing it back to the rendezvous point is rarely a smooth process on the first few attempts, and the more complex stages get overwhelming when you're worried about shaving seconds off of your run. Beating a level while going over the par time unlocks the next one, but it doesn't feel as satisfying a victory if you don't beat the par score. While this adds a reason to replay the short 16-stage run to perfection, it also negatively impacts the flow of the game at times. Make too many time-consuming slipups, and you have to restart mid-stage if you want to hit the target.
Mighty Switch Force's concept of moving blocks into and out of the foreground makes it a natural fit for 3D, and the game's layered visual style benefits significantly from the capabilities of the 3DS. Wayforward's pixel art skills also shine bright throughout the character and stage designs, which is no surprise when you look at the studio's recent past excellent work on Shantae: Risky's Revenge, Aliens: Infestation, and the previous "Mighty" DSiWare games. While they stick to their hiding spots, your sassy prisoner adversaries don't just sit around staring blankly; they do stretches, dance to the music, blow bubbles, and exude their own little personalities. Monsters are equally animated too, and there's an impressive amount of charm to them.
You can easily blow through Mighty Switch Force in a few hours or less, and the game's 16 stages will inevitably wind down with you wanting more, though the modest $5.99 price makes the game's brevity a bit easier to swallow. While you may be inspired to revisit old stages to better your time, it's a bummer there's little reason to do so. Still, it's a short, fun puzzle romp with just enough action to keep an upbeat pace. If you can ignore the irritating, poorly implemented timer, then you'll find plenty to enjoy in this pint-sized download.