Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP
Available On: iOS, Mac, Windows (Steam), Android
Original Release: March 24, 2011 for iPad (now also available on iPhone)
D and D by: Superbrothers, Cabybara Games
In one sentence: Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP is a rule breaker, through and through. And it’s a must play because of it.
After playing Journey it’s easy to see how a great soundtrack can sell a game. Yet even before Journey there was a game out whose music dipped a player into an 8-bit pool of creamy goodness. Sword & Sworcery is that game.
I first played this game through my iPhone, laying in bed late at night with some large headphones strapped to my head and fingers tapping away at the screen while engrossing myself in the chip-tune landscape that Jim Guthrie had created. By the time I’d finished I was so impressed with the game I actually bought copies for two other friends of mine… they’ve yet to get back to me on whether they’ve actually played the game, but that’s their loss.
The game leans heavily into the importance of the soundtrack, titling itself as an “EP” like so many music albums and incorporating a literal spinning record into multiple parts of the game. The very first thing you see when you start the game before even the title is shown is in fact a record. Concepts like “A Side” and “B Side” make themselves apparent not long into the game, creating a connection between the polar concepts of reality and dream worlds that reside within it.
This “winking” to the player isn’t limited to musical metaphors. The game is self aware, and address the player directly through its narrator, the “Archetype,” who claims to be overlooking the experiment that is the game/player interaction. He guides and in fact halts the players progress at points in the game, directing you to “take a break and come back for the next act,” summarizing your progress so far the next time you pick up the game.
The game’s techniques at pacing are probably the most surprisingly appreciative on my end. Alongside the mentioned “end of act” summaries where the Archetype will gently close the door to the game in your face, the longest act involves waiting for phases of the moon, barring progress until either the day of the full moon or the new moon. True, there are ways around this, (one legitimate way, and another the game classifies as “cheating,”) but the reason I think this game made such a lasting impact on me was because the first time I played through I actually did wait for these periods of time to continue my progress. So I had this game on my mind for almost a month, which is plenty of time to develop a connection with it.
By the way, do you know just how much of a faux pas it is for a game to tell you (or force you) to STOP playing? Developers want players to play and eventually beat their game. It’s what creates attachment, and that attachment means you’ll buy the sequel. One of the reasons so many RPGs are full with fetch quests and end-of-game side-quests are to keep players occupied with content to further their attachment. The same rule applies to multiplayer being shoved into every shooter available. Otherwise, the player turns off the console and resumes to eat, sleep, and breathe like a normal human being. Superbrothers breaks this rule and succeeds regardless (if not partly because) of it.
Of course a game can’t succeed with a soundtrack and narrator alone. The game itself is a quirky, mysterious, and at times disturbing story of heroism. It goes beyond what is expected in a game, namely that progress equals power. You become weaker as you progress, eventually discovering that the objective of the hero is martyrdom. As your hero falls into fatigue, coughing and vomiting following every milestone, you accordingly see your health dwindle. You may even feel a reluctance to finish the game, that’s how you know you’ve been hooked. If you are one of those people whose emotional investment in a game can bring you to tears, this game will do so. Be sure to wear a good set of headphones when you beat the game, because the final song brings the moment about fantastically.
And can I just say how great it is to have a female protagonist in a game, however hard it may be to tell, that doesn’t rely on sexuality to make the game? You may just have pronouns and a few extra black pixels to go off of (and those pixels aren’t in the chest area, if you were wondering), but it’s so nice to see it there and carried through without a need to boast or drive home the idea that the hero is a female. I only wish more critics would comment on it.
All in all, Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP is a rule breaker, through and through. And it’s a must play because of it.
Posted on July 29, 2013, in Reviews and tagged 8-bit, analysis, android, chip tune, gaming hipster, hipster games, indie, indie game, iOS, Jim Guthrie, music, music in video games, pc, Review, Steam, superbrothers, Superbrothers Sword & Sworcery EP, sword & sworcery, sword and sworcery, Video Game, windows. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.