Wot I Think: Ittle Dew 2

We rather forgot to review Ittle Dew 2 [official site] when it came out last November. So we’re remembering now. I’ve had a rather confused time with it, finding my enjoyment frustrated far too often. Here’s wot I think:

When reviewing the original Ittle Dew, a game I really loved while finding myself SO CROSS with it, I realised that it was, if anything, gaslighting me. (Not that I knew that term in 2013 – what we’ve been through, people. (wrap your eyes round this, John – ED)) I wrote,

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.”

A conflation of RPG and sokoban-style block-pushing puzzles, I came away from the finished game thinking incredibly fondly of it, despite having previously believed I just flat-out hated block-pushing puzzles. Turns out, if they’re used wisely, making use of your brain rather than your patience, and placed as the obstacle between you and the next cool gizmo, ability or upgrade for your adventuring, they can be quite the thing. This was all surrounded by a lovely, lively world in which Ittle and her flying fox/dog companion (friend would be far too strong a word for how he feels about Ittle) Tippsie (he gives tips, see) made silly and joyfully ironic remarks about their situation. Also they bonked enemies on the heads with sticks.

Ittle Dew 2 came out toward the end of last year and slipped through our net, so I set out to make up for that now. And goodness me, I have so many good things to say about it. And yet… Well, I just said of the original, “I came away from the finished game…” I can’t say that this time, because honestly, I haven’t finished it and I’m not sure if I will. And sadly, that’s not because the puzzles are too hard.

The puzzles are completely splendid. For everything plot-critical, the game loudly emphasises you can complete any challenge with nothing but the stick you start with, and that’s true. All the other items and abilities you pick up along the way can provide alternative ways of solving a puzzle, ways to find alternative routes around them, and most crucially, let you solve all the side-puzzles and extras. The difficulty isn’t raised on the first game, but rather deepened. Puzzles are smarter without being significantly tougher, which is always the absolute best way of delivering a sequel – it lets everyone carry on playing, and develops on the original in an interesting and worthwhile way. (My point is, this isn’t Stephen’s Sausage Roll, this is possible for thickies like me.) Except, but, although, however, what the sodding hell have they done to the rest the game?

The combat in the first game barely deserved the title. It was a fun aside, a little bit of bopping baddies or tricking foes to allow progress. This time out it’s gone absolutely stark-raving bonkers with the difficulty, at points approaching a bullet hell-like volume of combatants on screen. And the decision to do this is mystifying. What had previously been a gentle, daft and engrossing puzzle RPG has now become in places a twitch-controls whack-fest, requiring an adept level of its dodgy dodge-roll that I’m not sure I care to develop. (Compare this with last year’s wonderful Enter The Gungeon, where the dodge-roll is an essential joy to use and master.) And this isn’t just during specific dungeons, but all over the game’s sprawling map, with areas demanding you madly run through them dodging gobs of enemy fire, rather than methodically stopping to fight them. Enemies respawn as soon as you go off their screen or enter a dungeon, so there’s no hope of clearing a zone for safe transport, and you’ll have to have the same fights with the same enemies so many, many times.

This, while deeply strange, is fine. It’s annoying that you can’t enjoy exploring without having to fight the same few enemies again and again and again because you briefly went inside a building, but it’s doable and fine. Where it gets to the point of actively spoiling the game for me is in the dungeons.

Now, were this a game about blasting through floor after floor of baddies, then fine! I love those sorts of games. But this is a game about staring at a screen of blocks and barriers, and methodically working out how to push them around such that you can achieve a goal. It doesn’t seem especially odd to suggest that trying to do this while six or seven rapidly moving baddies fire missiles at you, hit you with swords, and blast the room with walls of fire, isn’t quite as rewarding. So yeah, you clear the room first (in some rooms, that’s the challenge – the door is only unlocked once you’ve killed everything, and there: great), and then get on with the puzzle. Oh, but the puzzle involves trying to navigate a deadly drop, or a rotating wall of spikes, or pits of lava, and it’s reasonably likely you’ll come a cropper to one of these while trying to complete the puzzle. Or, even more commonly, you push a block to a position that makes a puzzle unsolveable, and have to leave the room and re-enter to reset. At which point you start the room again (or often, the entire dungeon again) with all those enemies respawned, having to be killed yet again before you can get back on with the puzzle that’s likely to…

And I think I’ve now reached the point where I’ve had enough of that. Where Ittle Dew was frustrating for all the right reasons, Ittle Dew 2 is for some of the wrong ones. Solving the puzzles is splendid, and they’re wonderfully designed. The world is hilarious (if rather poorly introduced – the game cares not about having a beginning), the banter always splendid, and the graphics hugely improved over the original while maintaining the hand-drawn cartoon feel. And apart from the crap (but unfortunately necessary) dodge-roll, the combat’s good! It just shouldn’t bloody be there.

Despite having an immediately open world, it’s absolutely crucial that you follow the game’s suggested route through it. While you absolutely can go off into more difficult areas when you please, and a great deal of the puzzles can be finished without extra equipment, you’ll have a significant amount less fun doing so. This is mostly because you’ll find dead-ends you just can’t know are dead-ends, never knowing if you’re stuck because you’re being dumb, or because you don’t have the ability to create extra blocks yet. Because you don’t know that an ability to create extra blocks is even going to be a thing at some point. However, play through in the order marked by giant red arrows that appear on the map (but are not otherwise part of the narrative, nor especially not the natural order in which you might explore the world) and you’ll get what you need as you go along, and end up with a much more rewarding time. A time I haven’t had for not realising this early enough, and thus prejudicing my experience of much of the game.

I really want to keep playing, and I’ve had a great couple of day’s fun from it, but I haven’t the energy to keep fighting against its own daft decisions in order to play the great game underneath them. Yes, if you go through in the prescribed (but barely mentioned and geographically illogical) “right” order you’ll end up with more powerful weapons and powers by the time you were “meant” to have these repeated encounters, but that doesn’t entirely negate them, and it certainly doesn’t mean you don’t have to run screaming through them in order to follow the batshit random order of dungeons.

Cuh, I’m not sure. I’m not sure how much of my opinion has been coloured by my frustration with bumping up against invisible walls that exist by dint of my taking advantage of the free roaming nature, and how much is because they made a lovely, difficult game far, far too fiddly and twitchy to play. There’s greatness here, and damn, it’s so funny and cutesy-sarcastic. The puzzles are top notch, and the dungeons, when properly equipped, often a pleasure to plough through. But there’s just so much annoyance layered on top for absolutely no discernible reason, beyond presumably a fear that their sequel didn’t feel sufficiently different. The silly thing is, it was.

Ittle Dew 2’s out on Steam for £15.

14 Comments

  1. Underwhelmed says:

    I’ve been through all but the final optional dungeon now, and I never hit a single puzzle I couldn’t solve with what I had. I also ignored the suggested order altogether (the suggestion can be shut off) The in game text implies that the dungeon puzzles are modified slightly based on what you are carrying the first time you enter the dungeon, and it is pointed out repeatedly that all of the caves can be finished with the stick.
    Some of the dungeons later in the order can be more difficult if you do them before you have some of the combat related upgrades, but I never hit anything insurmountable (save one sword wielding Jenny inside of a portal dungeon that was just ridiculous in every sense of the word)
    So in other words, you aren’t running into unsolvable puzzles, you are just running into a few that seem impossible.

    • Premium User Badge

      John Walker says:

      This is a review in which I say that the puzzles are fine but the combat is too hard.

      I can only assume you are extrapolating from my point about not being able to tell which puzzles are not yet possible to solve, which is the case for the short-cut puzzles that are not labeled as such, thus creating the situation of not knowing if you can’t complete them because you’re not thinking hard enough, or if because you do not have the right equipment yet. In a game where the puzzles are designed to require lateral thinking, that is problematic.

      • reallyjoel says:

        But every dungeon or cave can be solved with just the stick or what you find inside. (Except the ones in a very late, post-ending dungeon)

  2. Rince says:

    What a shame, I removed the game from my wishlist. The constant enemy spawn sounds so annoying.

    • Someoldguy says:

      Twitch combat with a dodge roll mechanic in a puzzler? I’m out too.

  3. April March says:

    That’s sad. The combat in the first game was pretty much just a different kind of puzzle (and some of them required baiting or tricking enemies into doing stuff). But the jokes in the screenshots show me that this is still a game I want to play. We are all Foam Jenny, sometimes.

  4. Premium User Badge

    basilisk says:

    Oh :(
    I remember I never finished the optional Master Cave in the first game, because even though I solved all the puzzles (and they were very good puzzles), it ended with an absolutely ridiculous and frustrating boss fight and I was sitting there wondering why would anyone do this.

    It’s rather disappointing if the sequel decided to continue in this direction. I quite liked the first one.

    • phlebas says:

      Yup, that’s where I ended up with the first game too. Not helped by looking online for advice on beating the boss and only finding lots of people saying they didn’t find it hard.

  5. oueddy says:

    Couldn’t disagree more, really enjoyed this game and think its well worth a punt. My only frustration was trying to 100% it, where the secret dungeons sadly have too much of a difficulty spike. Most of the combat is only difficult at the very start of the game where you lack additional abilities, damage reduction and health.

    Its infinitely charming and has a wonderful art style. It’s not a bullet-hell dark souls alike unless you try to free-roam to the hardest areas armed with only the starter stick and 4 hearts.

  6. RickyButler says:

    ^^ I couldn’t disagree more, either. The combat could be iffy in small moments, though I think I only had a problem on the secret farting-potato boss. Everything else, including the semi-secret mechabun bosses had patterns that weren’t too difficult to figure out.

    One point you spend a very long paragraph describing is wrong: That you need to follow the dungeon order. The game goes way, way out of its way to tell the player repeatedly that they DON’T need to follow the order, because INSIDE each dungeon, you have all you need to beat them from the start. The game also explains explicitly at multiple points that certain abilities you get later will unlock shortcuts and secrets. It doesn’t keep this from you, and you can even talk to your companion (or NPCs) who will repeat much of this whenever you’re in the vicinity of these puzzles.

    I personally never had these issues because the game always reminded me that I didn’t have certain abilities. When I came across unsolvable bonus puzzles in the open world, I wondered about what I’d need to solve them and move on.

    I don’t mean to knee-jerk defend a game I really loved, but the game’s insistence on reminding me how the world works and what I’d need where and how abilities worked was something I noticed a LOT during my playthrough, so seeing entire paragraphs that contradict part of the game design I experienced every 10-15 minutes is a bit baffling.

    • RickyButler says:

      I’m guessing I just misunderstood some of your comments on area order, but I still disagree with your painting it like the game punishes you or it’s less rewarding to explore on your own. I went out of order and never thought twice about it, so saying it’s more rewarding to go in order just sounds odd to me. Part of why is, again, that the game would remind the player constantly how the world worked.

  7. noodlecake says:

    John reviewing a game that’s hard and requires reflexes generally leaves me with no idea whether the game is worth checking out or not.

    Couldn’t you come up with a system for reviewing games where if John is given something and he plays it and it turns out to to be a game that requires twitch skills, he should be allowed to swap with someone else on the team who likes those kinds of games.

    To be fair I could just look up reviews from other sites and see how they compare but I’m lazy and RPS is my go to gaming news site…

    • Ghostwise says:

      John reviewing a game that’s hard and requires reflexes generally leaves me with no idea whether the game is worth checking out or not.

      OTOH it’s rather useful for us older people with a nervous system that’s not in mint condition.

    • LessThanNothing says:

      So you don’t like the review and you hope someone else will play and review it so it mirrors what you want?

      If he doesn’t like it, he doesn’t like it. Go cry somewhere else.