How long can you remain stuck in an adventure/puzzler before you go looking for a hint? Forcing players to the shop to buy a hintbook, and then only for a popular enough game, was something designers used to be able to take for granted. As a contemporary reviewer, pragmatism would dictate waiting a couple of days, tops. Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP should be near impossible to finish within a month, quite conceivably several.
The problem, here, is that the availability of hints online undermines a key intention of design, so much so that there seems to be workaround implemented as compromise. But to truly appreciate Sword and Sworcery, it needs to be that gentle, background worry to your daily life; a problem in your pocket, like the old days, like whichever puzzle in LucasArts’ Loom made you pick up and start eating your notebook instead of your sandwich.
Sword and Sworcery should be Loom for the Modern Gamer, but isn’t, quite. It is a highly interactive, aural puzzler, where every action in a (not subtly ported from iOS) interface triggers some aspect of a dynamic score. But instead of puzzles solving themselves in your mind after lengthy cogitation, there’s lots of tapping, rubbing, strumming and swiping in a way that is largely disconnected from logical thought, more akin to random experimentation.
The biggest crime of coherency is that the game is much more evocative than it has any right to be. Levels are gorgeous, music engaging, but less could so easily have been more. The pure Minimalist moments are understated and graceful, but mashing together influences and resolutions, aural and visual, is not the only way to make a dynamic experience. And when a horrendous monster is scuttling towards you, you want to have to do more than tap the sword a few times to kill it – and even then, only temporarily.
Nonetheless, combat finds its flavour in battling the Trigons. Reaction-style mechanics aren’t difficult to master, nor do they suit use of the mouse, but it’s so Eighties. You’ve got your triangle, possibly fluoro, possibly cyan, possibly splitting into many triangles, possibly concentric, over-sustained, compound-chord Electronica and rising above you, most sinisterly. Then laser beams, baby Trigons, or cloudlike blows, pulsing forth from that evil place in the music, just behind the beat.
Sword and Sworcery is a bold, artistic experience, definitely at the right price and engaging, but both excessive and shallow. With a less busy, more meaningful presentation, greater design coherency, and a world without internet hints, it could have absolutely shined. If you can promise not to go searching for a hint, for at least two months, put this tiny, world in your pocket. It will remind you of old times.