I must admit, I really didn’t see this one coming. Again, an indie title has hit the nail on the head. I had just finished playing through Bastion for the second time when I heard the news that the champion of iOS games was now available on Steam. In all its pixelated glory, Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP has made its debut on ‘the electric computer’.
Being released in the App Store last year, I had already seen some impressive reviews circulating online. It made Time Magazine’s Top 10 Video Games of 2011 (not indie, or mobile games, but all games), Kill Screen Mag’s Rob Dubbin described it as “a digital act of bravery”, but my favourite piece of praise for this game was from the Wall Street Journal’s Kevin Sintumuang when he used the phrase “a kind of pop art for the digital age”. Sold.
Sword and Sworcery (yes the misspelling is deliberate) is collaboration between art and concept designers Superbrothers, Toronto-based indie developer Capybara Games and musician/composer Jim Guthrie. The project is a testament to teamwork, with all three parties sharing the role of creator, developer and publisher. What transpired was an old school point and click adventure, combat influenced by Punch Out! all wrapped in an intimate audio visual journey of discovery.
Originally designed exclusively for the iPhone, during production in 2010 the team had to put in the extra work to make the game compatible with the soon-to-be released iPad. After several thousand 5 star reviews on iTunes, theteam decided to let the PC crowd in on the action with an April 16 release on Steam. The Mac version is on its way and is set to be released “before the summer solstice.”
The graphical presentation S&S initially wreaks of cheesy retro pixels and those rocking a hardcore spec PC will probably wonder why they would waste several kilowatt-hours of energy on their machine for a game that doesn’t run DirectX 11. But as soon as you begin your journey in this quirky little pixelated world of beasts, magic and music, it all makes sense. You are a Scythian, a female shaman warrior armed with sword and shield with the ability to evoke sworcery to solve this world’s mystical musical mysteries. To reveal any more of the plot would be detracting from the game’s intention of discovery, so I will say no more about the Scythian and her woeful errand.
Points of interest may or may not be obvious, but they are not highlighted and definitely do not sparkle.
The pixels do take some getting used to on a big desktop monitor, but the longer you spend in the game the more you begin to notice the subtleties of the environment. Points of interest may or may not be obvious, but they are not highlighted and definitely do not sparkle. Finding those points of interest is only half the battle, next you must figure out how to interact with it. There’s no simple F key or blue X button to press, progressing in this game is about thinking outside of the realm of traditional player interaction. Tap, swipe and drag your mouse cursor until you see a hint of change, it may sound dull but when you make the discovery you’ll be laughing, perhaps in disbelief, at the genius of it all.
The aforementioned combat system is indeed reminiscent of the static interface of the 80’s boxing classic with clickable images for block and strike. While the small fry battles may seem tedious after a while, there is plenty of precision needed for the bigger fights. I wasn’t the biggest fan of using a touch screen interface with the mouse here, but after a few bouts I had the combat system dialled.
Dr. Guthrie’s Beats
Jim Guthrie’s experimental soundtrack will run away with your imagination. The original design concept was for a video game/record project, basically an interactive album with a point and click adventure woven in. From start to finish, the progressive indie rock sounds of Jim Guthrie’s Sword & Sworcery LP: The Ballad of the Space Babies compliments your adventure with whirring baselines, sweet melodies and climactic crescendos. Headphones are mandatory.
Where the game can stall is when you find yourself walking in circles in the little green 2D world, wondering what to do next. The Archetype, a suit wearing, cigar smoking soothsayer if you will, is in charge of giving you direction throughout the game and will continuously point to the Megatome: the book of tricks that the Scythian carries with her that reveal clues. Be ready for some of the most cryptic, sarcastic and sometimes just plain useless information, but to point to a yellow brick road would again detract from the alluring element of discovery, so you just have to relax and go with it. The downside is the game can really only be experienced once, every time after that you would just be going through the motions, but I believe that was always the intention of the creators. I certainly got my 8 hours worth of play out of this game.
The scripted dialogue is a mix of off beat humour and the aforementioned sarcasm and will continuously amuse, as will the poetic prose of the narrative text. One of the gameplay functions inherited from the ‘touchtronic’ devices is the ability to post the passages of the script on your twitter account, which might sound a bit silly, but when you reach one of the game’s milestones I guarantee you’ll want to shout these passages from the mountain tops.
Prefer moving pictures and sound? Then watch our video review here.
Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP will gently guide you along an audio visual journey you have never seen before. The creators like to call it “a brave experiment in I/O Cinema” and a “prog rock concept record you can hang out in.” The Steam version (just $7.99) even gives you a free digital copy of Jim Guthrie’s soundtrack. Now is the time to believe folks – don’t miss this little piece of video game history.