Review: Double Switch (Sega CD)
Developer: Digital Pictures
Instruction Manual: Not Necessary – Link
Played it as a child? Yes
Value: $2.63 (used), $7.63 (new) (pricecharting.com)
Other Releases: Yes – Sega Saturn, PC/MAC
Digital Release? No
This is the game that brought it all together and proved that not only was a full motion video (FMV) game possible, it could be properly acted with high production values. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure this title completely bombed on the Sega CD, otherwise there wouldn’t be so many freaking copies in the world (both used and sealed). Despite its commonality, Double Switch is like many other titles in the vast gaming world that starts off solid and becomes a veritable train wreck near the end. Honestly that’s when its commonality and subsequent low price tag come in to justify the purchase because I still really dig this title. It’s definitely not without plenty of flaws and if played in long intervals, can easily induce the need to never touch it again. If you can stomach it, this title does bring with it all the charm of a far-fetched early 90s pop film, which lead Corey Haim should suggest by the very fact he’s cast in the game. With the proper introduction, Double Switch was a fair follow-up to its much more popular, although purely due to its controversy, older brother Night Trap.
Developer Digital Pictures is solely to blame for the FMV game and it held the most firm grasp and largest library on the Sega CD. A company that started off as the lead developer for Hasbro’s canceled NEMO game system (that would do basically the same thing with VHS tapes), most of the sales celebrated by the company came from all the controversy of Night Trap. Even back then there was clear admission that Night Trap was a dated title that lacked almost any interactivity by the player and had terrible acting to boot. Double Switch, the successor that would follow the same structure without being a true sequel, hoped to address many of these complaints and did a fairly decent job of it. Unfortunately no one factored in the fact that many gamers thought they would see graphic violence or sexual themes as the sole reason for picking up Night Trap, the return on investment was hardly there. With what was surely a much higher budget than any similar title at the time, Double Switch was a big gamble that failed and not without good reason.
So what exactly do I mean about high production values? To start off, there’s the cast. The late Corey Haim (The Lost Boys, License to Drive) plays the lead in a time where he was just escaping the teeny bopper craze from the 80s, Deborah Harry plays another major character (best known for her singing career), and R. Lee Ermey (drill sergeant in Full Metal Jacket) plays the other main character. This is an impressive video game cast right off the bat (although they do misspell Ermey’s last name as Emery), especially for 1993, and each actor delivers believable performances in what feels more like a small audience play than a movie. As the mystery unfolds you get to know and like the cast of characters that also include a few famous Hollywood character actors like Taylor Negron, Irwin Keyes, and Thomas Rosales Jr. (look them up, you know all these guys). To couple this are varied music tracks that accompany certain characters, rooms, and scenarios to keep the soundtrack fresh in comparison to the painstaking repetitive music of Night Trap. There’s even a song by the band in the game, Scream, entitled Tunnel Vision that is to this day in rotation as one of my ringtones – for selfish reason I’ve included the “music video” (short clip from the game featuring the song) below. Given the trap-based nature of the game, plenty of set design and Arabian-style art direction do come together in a series of rooms that are individually distinguishable and fun to check out. Altogether it really is a decent and probably expensive cost to capture all the elements that tie into the game, not to mention what the software developers cost.
That’s where Double Switch hits some of its biggest snags: gameplay and mechanics. Being that it’s the spiritual successor to Night Trap, you’re still running from room to room capturing the various enemies that try to invade the Edward Arms apartment building. The game has three acts, each with their own individual tasks, that are properly laid out for you at the beginning of each act. In Act I, your job is to help Eddie (Haim) escape from the basement he’s been locked in by collecting codes and at the same time protecting the tenants from harm at the hands of those invading the premises. In Act II you are tasked with utilizing more traps, all hidden and must be discovered by viewing them, to prevent a killer wearing a mummy costume and discover who that person is. The final Act wraps the game up, ties up all of the loose ends (quite effectively), and reveals the secrets of Edward Arms. I liked the plot differences and the various tasks, especially given that in each act part of your task is actually watching the video to gain access to certain things. If you aren’t watching the thugs in Act I reveal the hidden code numbers, they will not unlock and you will not progress. Similarly in Act II, if you do not see the hidden extra traps demonstrated, you will not have access to them and be unable to prevent the mummy killer from trapping tenants or getting captured themself. It’s one of those things that once you discover the secret you may be a little annoyed and roll your eyes, but I thought it was a great way to keep you attentive and to assure that regardless of how many times you’ve played you’ll have to watch the movie.
Unfortunately it doesn’t work out quite as well as the developers had planned. Instead of a single bar that indicates proximity to a trap, you now have to arm specific traps in a room and trigger them as an enemy steps on them. This sounds simple enough except that the only way to know what trap an enemy is going for or will end up on requires you to have played the game several times and memorized the look or eventual trap outcome. I’m sure this was to encourage replay, as is probably every other annoying decision in this game, but it instead promotes anger and annoyance. As the game progresses there’s also a lot of juggling that pulls away from the very costly and mildly entertaining production – for example you may be listening to an important conversation, but a random enemy that can cause an immediate game over appears and thus you must leave the important part for a mundane task. In the grand scheme the solution is again to begin memorizing those key moments and navigating appropriately, which I can do without a hitch in Acts I & II. Act III is a different beast of its own because the difficulty ramps to an all time high, the enemy spawns are much quicker, and catching the key moments is basically once every thirty seconds or so. Since all of the traps used, characters involved, and timing are new, you never quite develop the skills, knowledge, or reflexes to succeed in the difficult final chapter. Not only that, but all of the important plot is revealed on that chapter and you’re only given 5 chances per save to complete it before having to start the whole game over again. This is a major problem, especially when you can never see the ending, which I have more issue with now than I ever did as a kid. I refuse to consult a YouTube video for a person who’s quicker and better than me (I’m sure there are plenty) because this is a reward I deserve when I finally get there, but as of the long 4-hour session last night I have yet to accomplish it. To get to a wall 85 percent through a game is what I call unacceptable.
Still, for those that don’t get as wrapped up in the game as me it can be a fun little bit of history where a movie game is just fun enough to get addicting. The video quality is greatly improved over Night Trap and the coding is smooth enough that load times are almost unheard of, not to mention the much-needed improvements with the on-screen display that makes you feel more like you’re in control of an actual security system. I’ve included video of the first act below but I didn’t want to include any more because it begins spoiling the larger plot points of the game and since I didn’t make it to the end would seem like a poor enticement to watch. For what its worth, this was the game I spent all of Thanksgiving 1995 trying to conquer and despite its flaws has always been one of the first games I re-collect when I get a Sega CD or give one as a gift.