I like games that take advantage of the platform theyâ€™re on. I also like games that tell a story, especially when the stories have nothing to do with space marines or Nazis. Enter Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP, an adventure game with a strange title, a strange premise, and a ton of charm.
How to explain it? Well, itâ€™s kind of a point-and-tap adventure game, but one where the focus is on having an Experience with a capital â€˜Eâ€™ rather than banging your head against a wall trying to figure out fiendish puzzles. The best way to play it is to sit back, chill out, plug in some headphones, and soak up the atmosphere.
You play the role of the mysterious Scythian, who is on a quest to recover a powerful artifact, defeat a being of evil, and restore peace to the lands. Sounds generic, but the way the story is told makes it feel fresh.
Itâ€™s hard to describe exactly how this is achieved, so Iâ€™ll toss a bunch of random factoids your way. All text in the game is relayed to you in short, Twitter-friendly bursts, and in second person. There are constant moments of fourth wall breaking, from the mysterious smoking narrator to comments from the main character about how sick of the quest they are. The small cast of characters have names like Dogfella (a dog), Logfella (a woodcutter) and Girl (a girl). They comment on your progress and help you out against a similarly small and abstract lineup of challenges.
The graphics can best be described as â€˜pixel artâ€™. Itâ€™s intentionally blocky, with an extremely strong focus on beautiful colours and sweeping vistas. Wandering around the world is a pleasant, peaceful experience, and countless little animations bring every scene to life. Waterfalls flow into reflective ponds; deer and rabbits hop along forest paths; fireflies flitter lazily through trees. This is all juxtaposed with moments of non-pixelated effects and interface elements, the result being a game that feels deliberately disparate and yet strangely cohesive at the same time.
You can apply that last sentence to the game as a whole. Sword & Sworceryâ€™s eclectic audio is its other stunning feature. It crosses a wide variety of genres, mixing ambient orchestral pieces with heavy rock guitar depending on your actions. You can certainly tell the developers are primarily music-focused â€” just look at the â€˜EPâ€™ at the end of the gameâ€™s name. Seriously, do not play this game without headphones â€” alongside the graphics, itâ€™s the audio that will really draw you in.
The game itself isnâ€™t terribly hard, but you may find yourself wandering aimlessly every now and then. There are also some annoying moments, such as boss battles with long, unskippable lead-up sequences, which get particularly frustrating if you keep dying. The self-consciously stylised dialogue might also not be to everyoneâ€™s tastes, although I found most of it added to the off-kilter aesthetic the developerâ€™s were obviously going for.
There are a bunch of things I havenâ€™t touched on, because in the end, Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP isnâ€™t about the graphics, or the audio, or the story, or the crazy presentation. Itâ€™s about all of these things, and your ability to enjoy the game rests on how well you can relax and allow yourself to simply inhabit the world on offer here. Itâ€™s a mellow, abstract affair that wonâ€™t be to everyoneâ€™s tastes â€” but if your interest has been piqued by this review, know that S:S&S EP has quality to spare. You wonâ€™t find an experience quite like this on the iPad (or anywhere, for that matter), and I for one hope we see more games that offer something just a little bit different.