I like Ittle Dew a lot more now I’ve finished it than I did at various points during playing it. But then I loved it at various points during playing it. So, well, this should be helpful… Here’s wot I think I think:
My immediate reaction to Ittle Dew was to want to cuddle it. It’s so cute, funny, snarky, and silly. It manages to capture that sweet spot between the nice idea of an irreverent web comic and what irreverent web comics are actually like – so never tipping over into smug hatefulness, while being studiously aloof. And it’s a Metroidvania sort of thing, and I am genetically programmed to like those.
I was also taken immediately by the enjoyable notion of freedom. You’re limited by gained equipment, but you can wander surprisingly far in various directions from the start. You’re the titchy titular Ittle Dew, a young girl hellbent on having some adventure. Arriving at an island that looks like it should be packed with the stuff, accompanied by an uninterested fox, Tippsie, you start seeking the damned stuff out as fast as you can. Exploration makes you aware that this is a fair bit Zelda, a smidgeon Metroid, and a surprisingly big chunk of Sokoban.
So it’s an RPG, with block-pushing puzzles taking a rather large role. And that leaves me confused. Because I really rather hate block-pushing puzzles. Solving them is so much effort, that even if you immediately happen upon the solution you still have to spend ages rushing about pushing things all over, and then inevitably accidentally push something into a corner and have to restart the room. That’s true of every example of the genre, and it’s true of Ittle Dew too. But I’m enjoying it anyway. Apart from when I’m not.
Every part of its delivery is winning me over. The enemies, who are whacked with sticks and swords, are all brilliantly animated and characterised. Like the furious-faced girls wearing poorly-made frog costumes. Or the Titan de Graphiques – large, winged blocks of stone that are FREAKING OUT because they are afraid of heights and can’t stop flying. Your fox companion’s utter indifference to everything is peculiarly entertaining, especially when you catching him swigging health potions that you don’t have access to. Although that’s countered by the first time you pick up a heart dropped by a slain enemy, and Tippsie points out that EATING A HEART IS REVOLTING. Good point, Tippsie.
The thing is, on a couple of occasions it starts to lose its way as you start to lose yours. Being open is great. Being confusing is less so. And it’s often tricky to remember where you are and why you’re there. This gets worse when you buy something from the store, and are catapulted (literally) into a different area of the game, from which there’s no escape until you solve its puzzles. But I don’t want to be stuck here. I want the variety I just had. Apart from when it was too much variety. And I’m stuck on a puzzle I need to complete, and now I hate it.
And then I figure out what I wasn’t figuring out, and suddenly I love the game again. Still a bit frustrated by its lack of direction, despite its propensity of directions.
A big part of this is either due to being splendidly open to player discovery, or woefully lacking in useful information. It’s one of those two. Like, you can teleport yourself using the portal wand. There’s no hint anywhere that this is the case, and it’s counter-intuitive to try it. So is it brilliant that I had to spend a frustrating half hour learning that, or bad design? I’ve no idea. This game is too cruel-cute to let me usefully object to it, and I’ve lost all my critical faculties as a result. I’m suspicious that if the game started calling me “Mr Fatty Stupid Face” I’d awkwardly laugh and say, “Sure, that has made me cry a bit, but I suppose it’s probably my fault.”
The pattern repeats. When I’m stuck on something, I get cross with the game, and feel stupid because I know there’s a solution in front of me, but I haven’t outsmarted it yet. And then I solve it and I feel like a genius, and it’s the greatest game of the modern age. And then I’m stuck again. That’s probably true of any Sokoban variant, but it gets more weird when it’s in the centre of an RPG. The combat is mostly simplistic, albeit with some enemies requiring slightly more tricksy flapping about. Bosses are more complex, but not a great deal – they’re more about embracing the specialities of the tools that area is focusing on. But it’s all pretty incidental, something to get in your way as you move from puzzle to puzzle. In the end, it’s inescapably about block-pushing puzzles, and so the constant highs and lows they offer are ubiquitous.
It’s important to note that the puzzle design is mostly really splendid. You may have solved block-pushing puzzles until you can do them in a coma, but there are lots of original ideas here. That’s elaborated when you’re freezing blocks, blowing up bombs with a fire sword, and teleporting objects around. I’ve finished the game, but I did leave a few puzzles unsolved, because I simply couldn’t do them. I hate those puzzles. But the tricky ones toward the very end that I did solve? Those proved that I’m the cleverest one there is.
The game never stops being fantastically sarcastically cute, and delivers with all its gags. The puzzle difficulty wavers, with the oddity of a lot of the final main-route rooms toward the end being far too easy, and then culminating in a boss that’s far too fiddly. But it won me over from the start, and I forgave anything else because of another exchange of jibes with an enemy and the flattering success of figuring out the next tricksy room. It’s a tenner, and you’ll likely make your way through it in six or seven hours, which seems just about right to me.