April 24, 2012 · 0 Comments
Something in our minds and hearts has always yearned for heroes. From King Arthur to Luke Skywalker, humanity has created and celebrated characters who fulfill great destinies, albeit ones tinged with sorrow. Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP is a game that simultaneously recalls the tradition of epic heroes that stretches back through time, and creates a new kind of heroic quest that could only exist in the modern era. It’s a magical adventure with a cohesive sense of style that uses its visuals, music, and dialogue to create a wondrous experience that’s unlike any game you’ve played before.
It involves you personally in a way that few games do. Sword & Sworcery doesn’t so much break the fourth wall as never build it in the first place. Your guide is the archetype, a dapper fellow with a cigar and a cane and one hell of a chair. He addresses you, the player, directly. His welcoming words set an intriguingly offbeat tone for the adventure to come, as he thanks you for choosing “to participate in this experimental treatment for acute soul-sickness.” Before long, you’re thrust headlong into your quest.
You play as the Scythian, a warrior monk far from her homeland on a woeful errand whose details aren’t immediately made clear. The game’s early moments allow you to come to terms with its intuitive point-and-click controls, and to interact with the world. This pixelated land quickly reveals a liveliness that makes it beautiful. The green dots that make up bushes shift colors ever so slightly, suggesting the gentle rustling of the wind. Your reflection in a pristine lake catches your eye, and tapping the water causes splashes to occur. Rabbits and other woodland creatures scamper into the brush as you draw near. All these details and many more pull you into this world and make it feel alive.
Though your errand is woeful, your quest is filled with humor, which results from the consistently delightful fusion of typically lofty fantasy language with contemporary casual lingo. You quickly meet three residents of this realm; a girl known as Girl, a woodcutter known as Logfella, and their dog, known as Dogfella. Clicking on Logfella early in your adventure reveals, “Logfella knew all about our woeful errand & he agreed to lead us up the old road. Still we definitely got the feeling that he wasn’t super jazzed about this.”
The Scythian’s use of a first-person plural suggests she is speaking not only for herself, but perhaps for both you and her, and along with the archetype’s periodic interludes, this helps make the whole experience feel more personal, like a journey of discovery not just for the Scythian, but for you as well. The statements of other characters aren’t always humorous; they can also be ominous or observational or melancholy. Their quotable nature makes them apt for sharing, and S&S facilitates this by making it easy for you to quickly tweet any line without leaving the game.
Sword & Sworcery’s gameplay is straightforward. Your errand involves acquiring the triangular triumvirate of magical objects known as trigons, a clear nod to the most iconic magical object in game history. To do so, you explore the world, looking for the telltale signs of the presence of slumbering sylvan sprites who must be awakened and sent skyward. The puzzles you must solve to awaken these sprites encourage careful observation of your surroundings, as you must usually tap objects that stand out for whatever reason. You might notice that a bush that appears to be reflected in a lake doesn’t exist on the shore, or that a mother duck seems worried about her distant ducklings.
These puzzles are generally quite easy, and in most cases, if you choose, you can solve them just by clicking all over the place until you hit upon the environmental objects that respond. But the puzzles aren’t designed to be brainteasers, so much as they’re yet another way the game draws you into its captivating world. It’s a world of wonder and miracles, and your actions when solving puzzles sometimes end up changing the landscape in dramatic and surprising ways. At times, real-world moon phases have an impact on the Scythian’s quest, further cementing a feeling of connection between you and the hero.
Your adventure is punctuated by occasional battles. In combat, you can click a sword icon to swing and a shield icon to block. Despite their simplicity, these fights are involving and satisfying, thanks to their rhythmic quality and a sense, generated by the music and sounds, that these are epic battles of great heroism and importance.
In fact, the music is an essential component of the entire Sword & Sworcery experience. Musician Jim Guthrie’s varied tunes perfectly support the sense of magic and wonder that the game’s story and writing create. Awaken a sylvan sprite, and the ethereal tones it emits as you send it skyward may send shivers down your spine. Find yourself facing a monster in combat, and the primal beats that sound as it bashes its shield with its club will get your pulse racing.
Some of the game’s most memorable moments occur as you take time to just exist in the world without advancing the story forward. You might savor the sights and sounds of standing under a pristine night sky, for instance, or you might meet Jim Guthrie himself in a grove and share a dreamy jam session as you make the trees resonate while Jim lays down a beat. It’s a magical moment in a game full of a kind of rare beauty that you seldom encounter in games, or anywhere, for that matter. You get Guthrie’s score for the game free with your purchase, which is a fantastic bonus.
Sword & Sworcery is only a few hours long, though if you play it the way the game encourages you to play it, those few hours may be spread over a number of weeks. But despite its brevity, the game doesn’t feel too short. It’s a satisfying experience that leaves you feeling like you’ve seen an important and heroic task through to completion, and gives you memories to keep. Sword & Sworcery casts such a captivating spell, you may recall your time in this wondrous and mythical realm each time you see the moon shining in the night sky.