There are games that are made to challenge your dexterity, problem solving, and will power, and then there are games that solely exist as a means to escape reality through a digital manifestation of imagination. Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP falls into the latter category.
Created originally as a game for mobile devices by Superbrothers and Capybara Games (with music by Jim Guthrie) but later ported to Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X, Sword and Sworcery has the player assume the role as an observant deity guiding ‘The Scythian,’ a warrior girl, on her ‘woeful quest’ for the Megatome. Through point and click game mechanics as well as time and moon-phase based puzzles, the player is sent to explore the fun and tragic imaginations of the designers.
Although it seems a little amateur to reference game graphics as the first criteria in a review (much like sports casters don’t start off a game commenting on the texture of the basketball), for a game that is made for the aesthetic rather than the game play I believe it is appropriate. The first thing players will notice is the unique style the developers have created, a style harkening back to the days of the first ‘realistic’ side-scrollers for the SNES but with the smoothness of modern day engines. Every setting could be recreated using mini Lego blocks, which makes it both nostalgic and crisp even though you can’t make out any faces. Uniqueness and vision is what people turn to indie games for, and because of that I would put Sword and Sworcery up there with games like Fez and Limbo, the graphics of which leave as much of an impression on the player as the actual play through does.
The game is divided into several sections and employs the standard ‘click and hold’ mechanic to move. This moves ‘The Scythian’ up and down the paths of the 2D landscape, something which players will be spending a lot of time doing to explore everything this game has to offer. You regularly travel through reality and a dream space while altering moon phases and time to engage happenings that occur only under certain conditions. It’s a beautiful mechanic, but for those who don’t consider a game beaten until the percent complete is above 100% it does get maddening since finding secrets ultimately comes down to grinding and not puzzle solving.
Sword and Sworcery also employs a simple combat system that is scarcely used (and really only for fighting bosses) but fun nonetheless. Locked in one-on-one combat you have the option of striking or blocking against the enemy, which is actually easy to get swept up in once the timing and sound cues kick in.
Likewise, the small cast of characters is equally effective in its simplicity, what with characters named Logfella and Dogfella (a log cutter and a dog, respectively) and a Cave Johnson looking NPC known as ‘The Archetype’ who both explains the next section and recaps the previous one. Interaction with these characters is simple, with funny little awkward conversations that sometimes delve into a mythos that is crafted with all the landmarks of proper Canon, like the promise of ‘a time of miracles’ and talk of a malevolent ‘Gogolithic Mass’ who is in fact the main antagonist of the story.
But what’s interesting to note about this game is that it is also a sort of experiment, testing the potential for integrating social media directly into the game. No line of text is longer than 140 characters. Is it a coincidence that the whole game can be broken down into a series of Tweets? It is not. The designers added a button to directly Tweet any line of text as you are reading it with the hashtag #sworcery. This way you can show the friends who care how far you are in the game and you can all laugh together. It was a failed experiment, in my opinion. Tweeting doesn’t change the outcome of the game at all and I didn’t Tweet once. It was a nice idea but ultimately useless. Luckily this does not take away from the game at all. It’s only an option that goes unused.
Luckily, the best part of the game, by far, is not something you can choose to skim over: the audio. But that’s to be expected, what with the game having ‘EP’ in the title and the transition animation between reality and dream space being a record flipping to the B-side. It is immediately apparent that the designers took a special interest in making the sounds and music of the game just right for every moment. Fights are orchestrated around audio cues that become part of the background music and puzzles depend on you turning the landscape into instruments. And then there are the mini games, including a jam session with a digitized Jim Guthrie and a psychedelic moon concert.
Overall, this game is one that validates the hours of wading I’ve done through mediocre titles both Indie and AAA. Sure the puzzles are not accomplishments you would brag on the forums about, but if you’re looking for a sensually immersive experience then look no further. It is apparent when designers take as much care of their work as they do pride in it, and by playing Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP you’ll be glad that you live in a world with people with such dedication, vision, and simple taste.