I got interested in Capybara Games‘ enigmatic Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP (which, from now on, will be referred to as ‘Sword & Sworcery’, because screw that noise) when news of it being cool started popping up all over the net. I didn’t actually read most of the news, mind: I had an immediate feeling of possible-future-review, which means keeping myself as un-influenced as I can manage. But the graphics looked neat and pixelly, I heard that the writing was good, amusing and self-referential, and the official website has a list of gleaming recommendations for the music of Jim Guthrie. With that much praise strewn about, I felt a me-sanctioned review of the whole shebang was in short order.
Plus, I got a coupon. For, like, 25% off. Wasn’t about to let that go to waste.
(Mechanical spoiler level: Medium. The controls are fairly obtuse, so it’s actually nice to know them, but there’s a few ‘interesting’ bits that might get spoiled.)
The opening screen to Sword & Sworcery is… something else. For one, it’s very minimalistic. It features pop-out tabs, an unmarked ‘i’-button, and an image of the moon for some reason. Oh, and there’s also a giant spinning record, right in the middle.
In the settings screen, the game asks my permission to post certain things to my Twitter account. ‘Our research indicates that social support networks will play a significant positive role in the outcome of S:S&S EP’, or so the game claims. Hmm. Will I… actually, I guess if you’re unlucky enough to follow me on Twitter, you’ve already seen the deluge of #sworcery-Tweets I spammed out last week. So yes, I guess I am going to give you permission.
The ‘i’-button, finally, leads to the craziest credits screen I’ve seen in a while. A pixelated man asks if I want to jam. Clicking on him produces music, text, and a mess of other pixelated characters. It’s really quite the experience; if you do end up playing this game, I recommend you try it.
As for right now, there’s a giant play button in the lower right corner of the screen. Clicking that brings me, oddly enough, to the same screen with the same pixelated man as the ‘i’-button did. After a brief stereo-sound test, his tiny head explains to me that Sword & Sworcery is supposed to be taken as something of a social storytelling experiment, that it should be played in sessions for maximum effect, and that this first session should take ‘only 15-30 minutes’. Resisting the urge to grab a stopwatch, I click the Play button.
I find myself beamed into a pixel grove. My recently-appeared pixel knight stands on a pixel pedestal besides a pixel dog, as the game yells silent instructions at me. LOOK, it tells me, so I look. LISTEN, it bellows, so I listen.
As the dog barks excitedly and runs to one side of the screen, I make an attempt to figure out the controls. It seems simple enough. Left click makes a dotted circle appear, but that doesn’t appear to do much. Double-left click on a movable area causes my character to move there, as does left click-and-hold. Double-left click also functions as the aforementioned ‘tip tap’, as clicking on certain objects this way brings up a description or a conversation. Like when I spied a few worthless sheep lazing around in a nearby meadow.
In the meadow, I meet a girl who is called ‘the Girl’. Near the lake-bound house nextdoor is a wood-chopping woodsman by the name of ‘Logfella’. He’s heard of our woeful errand, and agrees to take us to where we need to be, though he doesn’t appear to be super jazzed about it.
That sentence style — using ‘we’ everywhere — is actually something the game does. I’m not sure who ‘we’ refers to, in this case. Me and the dog? Me, the player, and my character? Given this game’s experimental nature, everything probably goes.
As Logfella leads us up the mountain path, I mess with the controls some more. I think the left click-and-hold movement technique is supposed to be a little faster, but it’s kind of a pain to get going, and for some reason I can’t pull it off too close to my character. Double-clicking is a little slower and fairly inaccurate, and it sometimes leads to object descriptions when what you want is walking (or vice versa, more often), but what I do pick up on is that the exits from each screen are marked with flowing white dots, and directly double-clicking those makes my character speed up significantly. Run, almost, if there were a running animation in this game.
I also notice that the game is very audiovisually busy. Clicking on brush or in water makes rustling noises or splashes. Running past a darting rabbit plays a few musical note. An actual music score starts playing at one assumedly pre-determined point. There’s lots of movement, sound, activity everywhere.
Oh! Apparently I can zoom out, too! That helps. All that scrolling around the map was getting kind of tedious.
A journey of a few screens later, we cross a log bridge to find ourselves face-to-face with a black, three-eyed dog. Logfella figures he’ll just let us handle this, so I walk up to the growling beast. Here, the game asks ‘FIGHT?’ and prompts me to right-click, which causes me to draw my sword. Suddenly, the universe shrinks to battle size.
The battle controls, appropriately, are as sparse as the rest of this game’s control set. Press and hold the Shield icon to block, press the Sword icon to swing. I can’t actually seem to hit the dog monster, so I try the time-honoured tactic of ‘wait for it to attack, block, then quickly attack while it’s stunned’. This doesn’t work either, but not for a lack of me trying. Finally, after one too many non-fatal-but-probably-painful headbutts to my shield, the dog monster decides against this course of action and flees.
The journey continues to a giant stone face next to a rainbow, where Logfella takes a seat and starts talking. Actually talking, that is: he says a few lines of dialogue every time I sit next to him. That’s… weirdly out-of-place, really. Does he talk more in the future? Does anyone in this game talk? Well, whatever the setup, I’m a little stuck here. There’s a sword pictogram, and a rainbow, and a giant face, and… what?
I won’t spoil the puzzle for you, but suffice it to say I spend fifteen minutes fruitlessly clicking around everywhere on this screen and getting thoroughly educated on Scythians’ dislike for rainbows, before it dawns on me that the solution is incredibly easy, would have taken all of ten seconds, and should be obvious to anyone with a working memory of more than thirty seconds. I accidentally described the solution two paragraphs back, even. Not my finest moment, but whatever.
Alone, I cross through the giant face, into a rocky temple with impossible world-wrapping geometry, until I finally find myself in a dark room holding a book. Not just a book, mind: the Megatome, the whole raison d’avoir for this first-session quest. I wrench it from two bony hands under a bony skull, which to be honest sounds like a terrible idea to me, but there you have it. Sure enough, the bony hands and skull do not appreciate me taking their property, and attached to a cloud of darkness they follow in pursuit.
Through the temple we go, then through the passage, then through the forest, as rainbow-coloured lightning streaks from a purple-red sky and three-eyed wolves howl along the way. Finally, I reach the relative safety of the hut I found earlier, where me, Logfella, the Girl and the dog take shelter from the coming storm. Session end.
By now you might be going “Hey, Jarenth, what gives! I came here for a review, not a travelogue! Tell me more about the game itself!” And while that is a perfectly fair (if, in my opinion, a little short-sighted) assessment to make, the problem so far is that I don’t really know what to tell you. Sword & Sworcery is, up until this point, pretty much just a point-and-click game. The brief combat sections notwithstanding (and those are more like QTE-puzzles, anyway), all I’ve done is click on things. Click on things, read descriptions, and solve the occasional puzzle. Is that all that Sword & Sworcery is? Hopefully, I’ll be able to tell you more after I play the second section.
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