Look, I’m of the opinion that we’ve got way too much negativity surrounding this industry. Video games are, at their core, something that you’re supposed to enjoy; I’d even say you’re supposed to have fun with them, but that’s a divisive thing to say in the era of Games As Art, so let’s just go with “you’re supposed to feel enriched in some way when you play a game, and having fun is one manifestation of that enrichment.”
My point is that there’s a whole lot of bullshit surrounding the act of enjoying games, assuming you’re the sort of person who cares enough to involve yourself in the hobby beyond just playing the things. There’s no shortage of people and pundits who can’t wait to tell you what you’re allowed to enjoy, how you’re allowed to enjoy it, and what you’re supposed to be angry at on their behalf this week.
Frankly, I tend to find that this is a greater impediment to having fun with video games than the games themselves, because in The Year Of Our Lord 2017 most games are at least semi-decent. That’s most games. Not all of them. Sometimes a game comes along that challenges my worldview and suggests that maybe video games were a mistake after all. Last year that was No Man’s Sky – which, for the record, has drastically improved over time with several updates.
This year it’s Troll & I on the Switch (and elsewhere…shudder), and I don’t think any amount of updating is going to save this one. 2017 has been one of the best years for gaming in recent memory; now we just need to chug some laudanum to forget Troll & I and that can continue to be the case.
In 1950s-era Scandanavia, young Otto meets and befriends a Troll – a huge and lumbering mythical beast that was only rumored to exist. They’re both targets of Troll hunters; the latter because, well, he’s a Troll and the former because his home was destroyed in an attempt to flush the Troll out of hiding. The two team up in an effort to cooperate and survive against overwhelming odds.
Don’t get me wrong, Nordic Trolls are fascinating creatures that have been used to great effect in media before. There’s an indie film from 2010 called Trollhunter, for instance, that really nails the mythos in a unique and captivating way. It’s on Netflix! That’s a much cheaper source for your Troll fix than Troll & I. Hell, if you want this sort of “big monster and little human team up to fight crime” scenario, there are a few other games that pull it off in a more effective fashion than this like Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom or Papo & Yo.
What’s wrong with Troll & I, then? Well, the framerate is the primary offender. On the PC the game runs at a solid clip, on the “big boy” consoles the game runs at…uh, a workable clip and on the Switch Troll & I struggles to achieve double-digit framerates. The optimization is jaw-droppingly poor; this may be one of the worst-performing titles I’ve ever seen. This even extends to the game’s in-engine cutscenes, where characters’ voiced dialogue will regularly conclude before their on-screen representations get halfway through lip-syncing the lines. The effect is unintentionally hilarious, like a poorly-dubbed low-budget kung fu film.
In cutscenes this is just an annoyance, but it’s the death knell for Troll & I’s gameplay. The title runs so poorly that it’s practically unplayable regardless of whether or not the Switch is docked. Any sort of precision movement or combat is impossible with the massive input delay introduced by the game running at 5 FPS. That this managed to make it onto the Switch is nothing short of amazing; so much for the coveted Nintendo Seal of Quality.
The idea here is a sort of Tomb Raider reboot feel, an attempt at combining a degree of gritty survivalist fare with the intrigue and wonder of befriending the Troll a la The Last Guardian. In practice, the technical issues make this impossible. Even without considering this, Troll & I’s gameplay tends to come off as a checklist of must-have features that have been implemented more effectively in other games.
There’s crafting, for instance, because this is a post-Minecraft world and every game needs to have that, and weapons have limited durability to ensure that you actually use crafting; a far, far better game like Breath of the Wild still managed to catch shit for its weapon durability system, so you can guess how well it worked out here. There’s an element of teamwork in both combat and exploration; that’s fine in the latter case, but not so much in the former, as Otto is basically worthless compared to the mighty Troll’s smashing abilities. You’ll rarely want to control the little guy outside of when you’re forced to do so in order to get rid of rubble and sneak around.
Really, though, even discussing the gameplay’s quirks and foibles is doing Troll & I a favor, as I can’t imagine many players are going to get far enough to care once they see the game in action. This is a $30 title on the Switch. It is by far the worst game in that console’s library and may be the worst game to have come out for any console since the aforementioned No Man’s Sky. Five minutes of playtesting would have made it clear that this game is not fit for release, yet here it is.
Thirty bucks will get you a copy of Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove with $5 to spare. It’ll get you most of the way to a copy of The Binding of Isaac. If you’re intent on staying in the action-adventure genre, it’s half of a copy of Breath of the Wild. The bottom line: it should absolutely, positively not get you anywhere near a copy of Troll & I.