Troll and I comes to the Nintendo Switch and I hope you don’t mind him getting body hair in your lingonberries.
Type: Single-player, Local Co-op
Genre: Action, Adventure
Developer: Spiral House Ltd.
Publisher: Maximum Games
Release date: 15 Aug, 2017
It’s not a game about rainbow colored Trolls
For whatever reason, I’ve been humming REO Speedwagon songs the past few weeks. Seriously, like over and over and I can’t seem to stop. Growing up, I instinctively disliked them. I even went so far as to change the radio station the instant I heard the first chord of one of their songs. But. Well. For reasons, I’m just hooked to the tune Keep on Loving You. Maybe it’s the funny way they say “Miss-un” instead of “Missing”, or perhaps it’s the magical power of all that poofy hair belting out the power ballad chorus. Well, whatever. At this same time in my life I was perusing the new Switch releases and decided Troll and I was something that looked interesting. Partially because I like monster games and partially because I just felt like giving something a shot that I’ve never heard of. Worked for that REO Speedwagon song, anyway. Unfortunately, those lyrics will come back to haunt me:
“You should have seen by the look in my eye baaaaby, there was something miss-un”
(power chord BUM BUM)
You should have known by the tone in my voice, baaaaby, but you wouldn’t list-unn”
Ah. Well. Enough of that. Troll and I was not exactly what I had in mind after all. I’ll summarize my experiences here in what I’m hoping will be interesting to readers. Let me turn up the REO Speedwagon a little louder.
You take it on the run baby…
From the very first frame of the game, it was jittering like I had too much albuterol from my asthma nebulizer. I mean it was jjjiiiieeettrryyy. Every frame looking like a bad 80’s Max Headroom video, and it was roughly attempting 30fps as well as it could. This went on through an intro vid scene with some rich guy and a less than altruistic bad dude with a fading hairline who was going to go a-hunting Trolls in Scandinavia. To be honest, this part was the best voice work in the whole game. The scene ended and went on to load up the next. Here I was, a young lad named Otto who was hunting some boars and avoiding some horrible deathtraps because of – well, you guessed it: Troll Hunters blowing up the place. I won’t go into the rest because it would spoil the story. 😀 Anyway, it ended with Otto sliding down what must be an incredibly long slope. As I finished this bit, while still playing in super jitter-mode, the game began to load the next scene and … that went on for 20 minutes. Frustrated, I walked off to get a drink and sat down to look up if anyone else had this issue. Lo and behold, it was a common occurrence According to Nintendolife.com, they sent a message about having the exact same loading problem and the studio had replied that there is a memory leak in the Switch OS and it could be fixed with a simple restart. Here’s the link for reference:
So, I restarted and sure enough, it was working better. WAY better. I was getting mostly 30 FPS except when there were several bad wittle troll-rats ( for lack of a better term ) around me to fight. What these creatures are or why they exist was never explained, but apparently, Scandinavia has an awful lot of them lurking all over. I gamed on and was introduced to my main character, Mr. T.R. OLL. Here was where I kinda chuckled and almost laughed hard. The Troll had the exact same hair as his human friend, Otto. I mean, it was like they both went to the same hairdresser and were suddenly made insta-bros by the power of their dreadlocks. Yes, DREADLOCKS. I had no idea it was really cool to have those in 1950’s Scandinavia or that Trolls naturally dreadlock both their hair AND their beard. That aside, it looked like they would the best of friends and saunter off into the wild for some adventures getting rid of Troll hunters. We moved off into an area that was infested with more troll-rats and some other unfriendlies that looked like Uruk uncles from Lord of the Rings. I had met a few before but now there were some extra mean ones and I wasn’t terribly good at tackling them all by myself.
Enter the Troll
You can switch to the Troll with your controller easily on the joy-cons, so I did so and basically squashed the mini-monsters like they were giant bugs, with green blood and body parts flying in all directions. That part is priceless. It’s similar to dropping a watermelon off a building and watching it splatter all over the place. I never got tired of it, especially when the heads went rolling off like misshaped footballs. What I was less thrilled with was that Troll, yes that is the name Otto gave him, attacks in a sloppy manner with little in the way of accuracy. It takes two or three attempts just to get in the general vicinity of those baddies and later on, there are some that avoid his attacks completely and you have to switch to Otto in order to get rid of them all. Troll can food stomp, arm swipe, knuckle slam, and bellow. Bellow is the last resort when overwhelmed with these monsters. Basically, he attacks with a scary growl and frightens the life right out of them, but it does use up magic points. Otto attacks faster with a melee weapon or with a carefully aimed spear attack, but no guns. Oh, and no bows. No grenades either. You are just a kid with a bone club and bag full of hand-carved spears. That in and of itself is not bad per se, but Otto doesn’t get much in the way of varied fighting.
Right about here I discovered a few things. First, I can craft my own melee weapons rather than pick them up off the ground from a dead monster’s hand. Crafting is a little different than I expected because you can’t pause the game to do it. It happens in real time, so if you get attacked while crafting you will undoubtedly get hit hard. I had to find a safe place to craft first or kill everything in sight to keep from being ambushed. However, the only weapons worth crafting were the colored spearhead ones, mostly just to open a closed off area. I made some metal spears, which worked well, and this nail addled club that lasted a good way. However, most of the crafted weapons didn’t really impress or do much more than the ones I simply picked up. Generally, I stuck with the highest damage ones until I found a machete, which barely wore out at all compared to the rest of the weapons that would break after a few skirmishes.
The other thing I noticed is that this game leans toward the vibe of a Tomb Raider game, except that leveling up isn’t as interesting and the drama of the action scenes never ramps up enough. You scavenge just like Tomb Raider, getting crafting bits, collectible idols, health berries, and even diary pages. Now, I have to say that LOTS of games do this, Far Cry for one, but for some reason it had that strong Tomb Raider undertone to my eyes with the sort of survivalist feel and a ton of climbing walls up and down with perfectly placed rectangular stones. The hand to hand combat was much the same, but against the monsters, it reminded me of Shadow of Mordor, except not as fast and furious. The combat was okay here, just not very inspired, quick, or complex with a dash of subtlety in the method. It feels rote, with pretty much all attacks becoming the same throughout. I did feel that the number of attacks the monsters would take before dying was reasonable. You can also purchase upgrades throughout the game, so you’ll never really be overwhelmed. I wish I could play co-op to try that out, but my daughter was scared of the troll-rats and I wasn’t keen on her watching Otto knife men to death. So, it was played entirely solo.
I might need a selfie stick…
The camera doesn’t help either, as often I’d get a bad angle and be unable to see my assailant as either Otto or the Troll. Many times, the camera just panned into Troll’s big furry leg and I was playing blind until I finally got it to zoom back out. It happens throughout the game and renders the gameplay almost useless at times. It’s not impossible to keep playing blind, but it doesn’t help when I am fighting two men at once yet the camera pans off to the right corner where I can see neither Otto nor the bad guys hacking at me with machetes. Nice view of a crate, though.
Troll for hire
Troll also felt more like an assistant to Otto. I was hoping to be able to attack with the Troll in an exciting manner, but all his movements were slow and awkward, often getting stuck on geometry or missing his attackers because it’s nearly impossible to aim well. The majority of the time when I actually had to use Troll for something it was to cross a gap in the walkway or get up high to something. While this is all good and fun, there was a no dynamic between Troll and Otto with the exception of a few dramatic scenes where Troll needed Otto’s help and one where Otto got cold. Yet, there was still no interaction. If there was some sort of animation showing some emotional connect, I would get the whole Troll-Bros-4-life thing, but it’s just not there.
Another thing, every time Troll came upon a glowing rift of bad guys coming up from the ground, it was time to pick up a boulder, which sometimes was not placed well in sight, and knock down some rocks to close it up. This happened repeatedly, I lost track of how many times I had to close rifts. It seems like every single encounter has a stone rift that Troll has to close up. These rifts don’t even have a backstory or explanation other than some explosives the Troll Hunters were using opened these up. It must have been a lot of explosives because those rifts are in every single scene multiple times. It was overdone in my opinion. I totally understand the need to have these so that Troll can squash them and get his magic points back up, but it was a bit over the top with the occurrences.
I Can’t Fight This Feeling…( REO classic c’mon!)
So, it comes to the part of the review where I talk a bit about the combat. It’s repetitive. I thought it would get a little more interesting with the Troll, but for the most part, you do the same rock throwing, arm swiping, foot stomping actions throughout. It’s missing a dynamic, something to keep gamers interested in pushing on into the game. There was only one part of the game, in the boss fight, where they worked in unified tandem for a specific goal. Otto has the best combat of the two as he can do your basic melee fighting I mentioned earlier as well as a sneaky press X behind a bad guy and kill them with a knife. Sometimes I would have him do a special move where he climbed up on the back of a baddie and slit their throat. That was great and all, but I have no clue what I did that made Otto do that. Honestly, it felt like the first part of Tomb Raider being played over and over without any change to the combat. There were no special moves to unlock or upgraded weapons that had special features. I was disappointed with the combat in this game. It’s not terrible, just not really fun. I think the difficulty level errs on the side of easy, although I was playing on normal. If you get boxed in with 3-4 baddies then you will die, don’t doubt that. It’s not underbalanced, though, just repetitive is all.
Stealth was my preferred method of attack, and in general, it was easy to pull off on humans. As long as I did not move, I could sit there in a crouched position and be right next to a hunter, even in front of him, and he would not see me. I just waited until he turned around and then knifed him. It was a good way to break up the monotony of the melee combat, but if it were not for my love of action adventure games I would not have been able to complete the game.
The Mini-Map is ESSENTIAL
As for as traversing the landscape, there is something Troll and I has on the Switch that the PC and PS4 versions just got in a recent update. It has a Minimap with clearly marked locations of where to go, what baddies lay in waiting, any health in the area, and where the crafting materials were. Without this feature, I may have rage quit the game. I cannot imagine playing without it. For all those who played the game prior to this update, I feel so bad for your frustration at blindly walking in circles. It’s a good update and I would not advise even attempting to play this game without it.
I will say the puzzles aren’t super easy. Part of that is because it can be a little hard to see. I spent forever trying to find the stone stuck in the wall on the first puzzle like that. The graphic detail is a bit rough, and when looking over terrain it can be a challenge to simply see where the next area to climb is or differentiate it from all the rest of the similar looking backgrounds. Often times, edges are marked by a white line, but other times it’s completely disguised as rockface and you have to roll into an area with Otto until he eventually finds a ledge to climb up.
After some time into the game, you’ll come across the hunters and they will have traps for the Troll. You’ll have to disable these traps, but a few of them are tricky to locate. Again, the graphic fidelity did not help because I would miss some of these simply because I could barely see the trap there. Other times, it was cleverly hidden away. The traps were a nice touch, albeit a little frustrating because I had to play everything up from the previous autosave and that can be somewhat lengthy when replaying long sections. I think this area was probably the most interesting of the game because it required learning the lay of the land to get the traps disarmed. They were not overly complex situations, but it did take more effort to locate than I expected. It’s a good area of the game, yet could also be frustrating for some.
Since I’m bringing up graphics with the puzzles I’ll make a comment here. The graphics on the Switch version of Troll and I look terrible and dated. I compared it to online vids of the PS4 and PC versions, with some vids not even playing at 1080p, and those look better than the actual gameplay on the Switch. There is a serious lack of detail for rocks, landscape, lighting, renders, and an assortment of other things. It just does not look good. While the mini-map is incredibly helpful, the graphics in the game make it so difficult to see what is going on that I often missed a whole area or stone simply because I could not visually make out the definition of the item well. Hair, face, skin, and clothes all suffer from this too. It’s like someone turned all the graphic settings on LOW and left them there. Even then, the framerate jumps around badly from 30 FPS to something far below it and just barely playable when several troll-rats are attacking.
I’d also get some odd lighting that would appear and disappear on the floor in the hunter’s compound. It wasn’t terrible, and it didn’t leave me falling through the game world, but it wasn’t pretty either. There was one instance where Otto’s head disappeared and that was funny. I didn’t really mind it, but having your head leave your body in a game is something to note.
There is a feature in the game when you are a bit far from your companion and need to have them follow you or wait for you at a location. Waiting was no problem, it was the following part that was hit or miss. About half the time it worked fine, but the other half the character you commanded to follow you would get stuck on geometry. Mostly, this happened more often about halfway through the game. After a while, I simply stopped using that function and instead just walked to the Troll and climbed on his shoulder.
As far as the soundtrack goes, it wasn’t fantastic with awe-inspiring melodies or anything, but it did the job of keeping the game from feeling too bland. The tense music was the most prevalent played and it did well for the situations at hand for an action adventure game. The sound effects are nothing to write home about, but I did rather enjoy the squish sound when Troll squashed a troll-rat. There were some decent sound effects on the boss as well, as it generally made him sound like the nephew of Godzilla.
The voice acting, in the beginning, was done quite well, but the main character, Otto, is not really up to the task. Perhaps it’s the Scandinavian accent or the lack of emotion, but Otto just seems out of it throughout the game. I hate to tell someone they did a poor job, but it really could have been much better since Otto is the main human character. Troll just growls or bellows, which comes off just fine, but it would have been good for there to be more to it emotionally. I mean, even Vin Diesel does well with “I am Groot” repeated throughout Guardians of the Galaxy. Troll never becomes the character I expected him to be.
Besides the ultra-jitter-jutter before the restart and Otto’s head disappearing I had just one other bug. During the boss fight, the game crashes. It stinks because that’s a major fight and I’d get pretty close to the end where I am jumping through the air, Troll’s part comes up and then it froze up.
However, I have to say that was the only place it crashed. It got really close a few times when too many troll-rats were on the screen. Also, during each section of the game, the screen will freeze for about 3-4 seconds and then resume. Those worried me, but nothing ever crashed there. Being a PC gamer at heart, those things don’t really annoy me as much as it may annoy others. The biggest issue really is just starting the game without knowing about a restart. I can imagine many parents being confused about it and clueless about how to fix the game their child wants to play.
Cue the Power Ballad
I feel like this game became a poster child recently for how not to make a game. I had no idea until after I began playing it, but there is a lot of hate and criticism towards Troll and I. Is it justified? Honestly, I think some of the criticism is overblown, but I can’t say that the game comes off as something I’d suggest either. I’ll start with the horrible framerate that requires a restart to fix. Right there, I’d be upset if I just bought a game and it did not work from the start. Next, the graphics look really bad compared to the PS4 and PC versions. Not just a little bad, but really bad and even dated like it was something from the Wii era. Next, I’m not really sure who the audience is for this game. My 8-year old daughter was mildly interested until the troll-rats came out, then followed by human murders. She is not the audience. Maybe 12 or older, yet I think anyone older than say 16 would probably be offput by the Troll itself because it’s sort of halfway between wanting to look cute and looking scary at the same time. I see the general vein of something along the lines of The Last Guardian in scope, but the game doesn’t pull it off.
The combat isn’t totally broken (after a restart), but it’s not exactly fun. Troll is too slow and inaccurate to play with and that just leaves Otto who only has two attacks and leveling up doesn’t feel like much of an improvement. The story they follow is not completely fleshed out well because there is just no emotional bond with that Troll at all. The majority of the dialogue between Otto and the Troll is when Otto flat out tells the Troll he smells bad. On top of this, the camera angles can be completely useless when in the middle of melee fights. How can I attack when the camera pans over to a dark section of a room I’m not even featured in, or off to the middle of the Troll’s leg where I can’t see anything but CGI bodyhair gone wild?
When I look at the level design, it’s not really bad per se, but it is not exciting by any degree. It feels sluggish and a bit of chore. What I do like is that the fetch quests are very limited, and for that I am grateful. I just didn’t really think anything stood out to me, and when it did, I mostly remember the bad parts like the hard to see rocks that are stuck, the inability to see where to climb on rocks, the constant crevices of troll-rats, and a somewhat annoying boss fight that I had to replay five times because I didn’t see the cracks in the floor too well or could not get Troll to aim and throw quick enough because he doesn’t move fast to begin with. The traps for the Troll were probably the best part, but it was hard just to find them because the graphic quality was too low. I only really enjoyed a bit of that and the hunter levels where I got to stealth my way a bit. That was essentially it. It’s incredibly surprising because of the game trailer, which actually plays when you leave the game running for a bit, looks substantially better. Yet, none of that trailer makes its way into the actual game. I kept waiting for some of those scenes to flesh out, but not a single one did. It’s like the trailer was made with just a concept of a game in mind rather than actual footage. While I don’t enjoy telling people that a game falls short of being worth playing, I have to side with the criticism here and say, Troll and I is not something that I’d advise spending your hard earned money on.