SUPERBROTHERS: SWORD & SWORCERY EP EDITION (2011) – CAPYBARA GAMES
What a strange little game Superbrothers is. When I acquired the fifth Humble Indie Bundle earlier this year, I will admit that Sword & Sworcery (hereafter referred to as S & S) wasn’t especially high on my list of things to play – a port of a game originally released on iOS devices didn’t exactly seem the most enticing prospect compared to the likes of LIMBO and Bastion. However, I recently gave the game a go, and found its surreal charm to be quite amusing and intuitive.
S & S was designed to be part game and part social experiment, focusing on music and touch interaction as its two main driving features. The narrative is split into four distinct parts, or ‘sessions’ as they are referred to in game, following the adventures of a silent female protagonist called The Scythian. The main quest of the game is to retrieve an ancient text known as the Megatome, which can be used in tandem with a artefact called the Trigon (*cough cough definitely not a homage to the Legend Of Zelda series*) to seal away the evil presence lurking in a nearby mountain. The Scythian interacts with a few characters along the way, all of whom have conversations and personal thoughts recorded in the Megatome at various point along the way, but for the most part its just you, travelling along and solving puzzles in your ‘dreadful quest’. Due to its original format as an iPhone game, S & S is intended to be a quick blast, and thus it can be completed in its entirety in about an hour or two. While one can lament the relative short length of the game, the quality of writing in the narrative is very good, often breaking the fourth wall, which helps balance it out a bit.
Like with so many successful indie games of recent times, it is the gameplay which stands out the most in S & S. Every interaction in game is done via the use of touch (changed to mouse format on the PC for obvious reasons), with the player clicking on the screen to tell the Scythian where to go, and clicking various items in game to solve puzzles; for example, one puzzle has you clicking on three coloured birds in the right order in order to make them roost. In combat mode, the player presses either a sword or shield icon that appears on screen to either attack or defend, and if the player has lost their way then there is an ever present icon at the top right of the screen to access the Megatome for hints. The conversion of gameplay mechanics from the original touch screen to a PC format is well done and only suffers from the occasional moment of idiocy when you get too click-happy. My only real complaint is there is a serious lack of instruction in game as to what you have to do in some situations, meaning you may have to occasionally consult a guide to work out what to do.
There are some other nice touches that set S & S apart. There is for example a clever real time mechanic that dictates the lunar cycle in game, which is required to complete the more advanced puzzles at the end of the story. Music also plays a large part in the journey of the Scythian; most puzzles require you to select objects in order depending on the musical tone they give off for example. The big boss battles also occur in rhythm with the music in the background, meaning you can predict attacks and take evasive action if your hearing is sharp enough. Perhaps my favourite feature is the real-time interaction with the world outside the game; if you have an account on Twitter, periodically throughout the story the game will prompt you if you want to advertise your feats on the networking site, and will generate a tweet for you. I personally don’t use Twitter so this feature became useless, but the simple interaction is a nice touch that has eventually made its way into other games.
From an aesthetic point of view, the developers attempted to make a unique audio-visual experience, one that despite being primitive would actually be quite pleasant to observe. Well, they got the primitive bit right at the very least – the game is deliberately styled to look like the point and click adventures of years gone by, and as a result there is a strange balance of very basic polygons being quite smoothly animated. I will admit it’s not a look that everyone will enjoy (especially in a HD-obsessed generation), and it took me a while to get into it. As it is, there’s enough detail in the small game world to keep me satisfied. With such an emphasis on music in game, you would also hope that the soundtrack is up to scratch, and for the most part it’s a good soundtrack to click along to. Jim Guthrie, the composer of the soundtrack, even makes a humorous cameo to jam with the character in the woods at one point.
S & S received a hefty amount of praise when the game was released last year, and I can see where the critics are coming from – I like the fact that the game doesn’t take itself too seriously, and a mere glance at the story of production on the official website suggests that the developers were having fun when making the game. Would I have bought it separately from the indie bundle? Probably not – I think the art style would have put me off, as well as the relative short length (there’s little reason to go back for a second playthrough). Having played it however, I would say give it a try if you are looking for something a bit quirkier – get the original version to experience the touch mechanics to their full potential.