This is a Itorah review, specifically for the Nintendo Switch version. This game is also available for PC (Steam), Playstation 4/5 and Xbox Series S/X. The Switch version is available for €/$ 19.99 in the Nintendo eShop.
Never have I been more torn by a game (and in particular by this port) than by Itorah. The German indie developer, Grimbart Tales, managed to create a visually stunning video game set in an immersive world, but unfortunately, they weren’t unable to get it to work properly on the Switch. Allow me to explain why.
Itorah takes place in a fantasy world where mankind has been punished by a deity for their wickedness. This deity wiped out mankind entirely, erasing it from the map. However, as with every ending, a new beginning emerges. In this new world, human existence is nothing but a vague memory, visible only through well-hidden ruins and artifacts. But the new world, known as Nahucan, and its people are now faced with a plague that threatens their very existence. Itorah, the protagonist, a misplaced human in this world, appears out of nowhere, and is the only one with a chance to stand against this imminent threat.
A wonderful world
You play as Itorah and in typical Metroidvania style you have to explore and fight your way through a wide variety of areas filled with plague invested creatures. While Itorah is a silent protagonist, your trusty axe is able to talk and is the main way to interact with the world. Nahucan is inhabited by rodent-like anthropomorphic masked creatures. These folks help you on your journey and join you along the way.
The first thing that caught my eye in Itorah was the beautiful hand-drawn art. The world you explore is simply mesmerizing, with intricately designed and animated characters, and inspiring background art. The 2D landscape features up to eight layers of parallax scrolling, creating a sense of depth and immersion in the game world. The character feature a high number of frames, each with intrinsic details that keeps you eyes scanning the world for all the little detail it is given. Without a doubt, the game’s visuals are by far its biggest strength.
The game is advertised as a metroidvania, and while it has many characteristics that suggest it is just that, it is very light on these elements. There is a lot of exploration, but hardly any backtracking. Your character can be upgraded along the way, but the upgrades are limited to stamina and life bar upgrades. You unlock new abilities, but you hardly have to search for them, as the game guides you straight to everything you need to progress. Despite being light on metroidvania elements, the exploration and combat are still very enjoyable.
The combat system in Itorah is quite comprehensive from the start, featuring overhead, forward, jump, charge, and crouch attacks. Additionally, there is a dodge roll which feels a bit overpowered. It can save you from pretty much any hairy situation. However, it all comes at the cost of stamina, which keeps you from dodge spamming too much.
Throughout the game, you will unlock abilities that enable you to access paths that were previously inaccessible, in true Metroidvania fashion. Whether its because the pathway is blocked by giant stone blocks or platforms are too high. As a result, the platforming changes drastically once you add new abilities to your skillset. When you unlock the charge jump and the double jump, for instance, the platforming becomes way more vertical. In general, the platforming in Itorah is really fun, with well placed and diverse cast of enemies. The bosses are a lot of fun too. They all featuring unique mechanics and weak points. They put up a fight without getting too hard or frustrating.
Frame rate problems
For fans of the metroidvania genre, Itorah should be music to their ears. However, from the midway onwards the game seems to fall apart. The Switch seems to have severe problems coping with the game. Its frames of animation and many layers of parallax scrolling seem to be too much. Additionally, zooming in and out of the playfield likely doesn’t help. Initiating an attack also seems to halt the game almost completely for a brief period. Furthermore, the slide move that Itorah can use to slide down slopes is already fairly pointless and sometimes it causes the game to stutter until the slide animation is finished. A lot of action seems to dip the frame rate considerably. Unfortunately, the game, by some exceptions, never seems to be smooth at all.
As a result of technical issues in this Switch port, the precise jumping that the game expects from you in more complex platforming segments, is compromised by these issues. This problem becomes even more apparent in some of the particular sequences in the game. At certain points, the game puts you through floorless traversing bits where jumping precision and timing are crucial. Unfortunately, the timing and unstable framerate do not mix well, resulting in many unnecessary deaths. To make matters worse, these sections are too long. There aren’t any options to gain extra health until you reach a save point. I have wasted complete 1.5-hour play sessions on these individual segments. I’m pretty sure these sections wouldn’t nearly impossible if it weren’t for the technical problems.
The PC version and other console ports appear to not have any of these technical problems. Which makes me wonder what went wrong with the Switch port. Despite the highly animated backgrounds and many frames of animation on character sprites, I would expect this game to run at a reasonable steady pace. I wonder if this port was an afterthought done by Grimbart Tales themselves or if it was ported by publisher Assemble Entertainment as part of the publishing deal. Regardless of who is to blame, it doesn’t matter in the end. We are left with a hardly playable version of an otherwise above-average Metroidvania game, which is a damn shame.
Itorah is a visually stunning game that immerses players in a mesmerizing world. However, the sloppy Switch port has tormented the experience with horrible frame rate issues that make the game almost unplayable and rage quit-inducing. It's hard to imagine that Grimbart Tales put so much love and detail into the overall presentation only to ruin it almost completely while optimizing it for the Switch. Despite this setback, the game still manages to redeem itself overall. However, we strongly advise players to buy the game on other platforms instead of the Nintendo Switch.