Windows purists rejoice: You no longer need an iPad or an iPhone to play the coolest game on iOS.
About a year ago my twitter feed was inundated with people raving about Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP. I like to think I’m pretty on top of new releases, so I wondered why it was that I never heard about Sword and Sworcery before. Then I found out it was an iPhone game and immediately lost interest. Unlike a lot of nerds, I don’t have any fanboy prejudice against Apple or anything, I just don’t have an iOS device and let’s face it: despite some quality core focused titles like Infinity Blade, mobile games still don’t have an exactly stellar reputation among gamers. Sure, the game’s retro style and pedigree (it was developed by the guys at Capybara Games, best known for their work on the insanely addictive strategy-puzzle hybrid Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes,) piqued my interest, but its iOS exclusivity put it out of my reach.
Thankfully, a PC port of the game was released this past week, and I thought, hey, why the hell not. It was on sale for 6 bucks (normal price is still a modest $8 on Steam,) and I figured it was worth at least that much to just see what all the hype from a year ago was about. I admit, I still didn’t know much about Sword and Sworcery going in: I knew that the original version had a great soundtrack and that it was controlled entirely by touch gestures, but outside of that, I had no idea what to expect.
With that said, I have to say that I’m very happy with my decision to buy Sword and Sworcery. To explain SS&S in the barest, most minimal of terms, it’s a point and click adventure with some light action elements. But while that’s the best description I could up with for how S&S plays, it’s not an accurate description of what S&S actually is. You see, as a game (in the traditional, core gamer sense of the word,) S&S is simple and plain, but when you add in the art, the music, and the writing, S&S becomes less of a game and more of an interactive experience that you simply need to try for yourself.
In that sense, it’s sort of futile to review Sword & Sworcery, but what the hell, I’ll give it a shot anyway.
The first thing you’ll notice about S&S are the graphics: while there’s a lot of faux retro games nowadays, especially in the indie market, S&S manages to pull off a style that is both unique and instantly appealing. S&S’s blocky characters animate with a smoothness and personality that you wouldn’t expect from an 8-bit sprite, and the backgrounds are filled with so many little bits of detail and subtle animation that you stop noticing how blocky everything is. The game evokes memories of the best pixel-art from classic adventure games like the early Monkey Island or Space Quest titles, while at the same time possessing an iconic aesthetic that you could never mistake for any other game. Despite the deceptively simple styling, there were times in my playthrough of S&S where I just stopped playing and simply sat there in awe of the scenery.
The second thing you’ll notice about S&S will probably be the amazing music. Actual, full tracks are used rather conservatively throughout the game, and the music only pops up when it needs to, such as during fights or dramatic moments during the story. Despite how rarely the soundtrack plays, each song is brilliant. I found myself turning up the volume every time the music kicked in. There’s a reason why the Steam version of the game includes a free download of the game’s soundtrack: this is one of the few modern games with songs that are worth listening to outside of the game. Composer Jim Guthrie has released the soundtrack to the game on vinyl, and while I already have digital copies of all of the game’s songs, I’m tempted to fork over some cash for the record (despite not owning a record player,) just because I feel like Guthrie deserves it. The soundtrack is that good.
Then there’s the writing. While Swords and Sworcery is based on the hero’s journey archetype that every culture’s fiction has iterated and reiterated on every since Mesopotamia, the game never takes its adventure too seriously, and the every line of dialogue has a playfully deadpan, self aware tone to it that made me genuinely laugh out loud at times. The writing is silly without being dumb, and its clever without being pretentious.
The blend of these three elements — the art, the music, the writing — is what makes Sword and Sworcery so great. It’s like an 8-bit painting that I can walk around in. It’s like a great record whose songs are effected by my actions. It’s like a book that writes itself as I’m reading it. To put it simply, thematically the game is perfect.
Unfortunately, the actual game elements of this game aren’t quite as perfect. While most of the puzzles require a strange but ultimately understandable internal logic to solve, there were some puzzles that were so obtuse and esoteric in concept that I had to resort to randomly clicking around the screen in order to solve them. For the most part, the puzzles managed to feel logical and challenging but fair, but there were a few with solutions so seemingly random and bizarre that I feel like I never would have figured them out if it weren’t for walkthroughs online.
The game also suffers a bit in the transition from iOS over to PC: there are parts in the game that were obviously designed to use the iPad/iPhone’s gryoscope or multi-touch screen, and these sections seemingly don’t quite work as well with the PC’s versions purely mouse driven interface. Again, I haven’t actually played the original iOS version, but there were a few parts in the game (such as when you have to grab two parts of puzzle and slide them together simultaneously) that just felt awkward and buggy on the current PC version.
But despite some missteps, I still mostly enjoyed my time with Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP. The simple gameplay definitely plays second fiddle to the game’s aesthetic and narrative elements, but in this case, that’s not so bad: the beautiful art, haunting music, and brilliant writing manage to fill the game with both style and substance. Point and click adventure fans and anybody looking for a unique, relaxing experience will get more than their money’s worth with this game. Here’s hoping there’s more Superbrothers EP’s in the works.
Final Score: 8.0/10