April 18th, 2012 | By Richard Glenn
Some things are just meant to be. Just as the Sun will rise, the grass will grow and the Colts will perish without Manning; the original Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP was meant to be the quintessential mobile adventure. Now, over a year later, Capybara Games’ quaint artistic endeavour has made its way to the PC. Now bereft of the touch controls, motion-manipulated interface and portable functionality that made the original so endearing, is Sword & Sworcery quite such a good fit on the desktop platform?
That’s a question that may only definitely be answered depending on what you loved, cherished or despised about the iOS version, but, at face value, both editions at least look and present themselves virtually identically. It’s still a pseudo-bizarre escapade that combines the media of art, music and old-school point-and-click adventuring to craft a gaming collage quite like no other. That, in effect, was always the very essence of Sword & Sworcery at its most basic level. However, after playing through the game’s PC incarnation, it seems more apparent than ever before that there were always more strings to the game’s bow.
But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. First, for those unfamiliar with Capybara’s iPad exploits, it’s worth noting that you play as Scythian – an explorer wandering through a magical world of voyage and discovery. It’s not long before you encounter a girl named, well, Girl, and a woodcutter named Logfella, accompanied by his loyal canine, Dogfella. Names they may only be, but their simplicity speaks volumes about Sword & Sworcery’s minimalistic approach to storytelling. This light-handed narrative dynamic permeates through to the in-game narrative, delivered through on-screen textboxes and the expositional outlining between each of the game’s four ‘Sessions’, carried out by a mysterious fellow on a white background known as The Archetype.
With this all said and done, you’re off on a quest to find three spiritual relics and, from the word “go,” what ensues is an abstract journey that’s both light on explicit detail and lacking in substantial user guidance, but almost endlessly open to personal interpretation as the game’s events unfold. There’s your traditional point-and-click conventions, encouraging you to fiddle and interact with the in-game landscape in order to further the tale of discovery and enlightenment and there’s a sprinkle of admittedly obscure combat encounters to spice up proceedings.
It is these sporadic instances of conflict that manifest themselves as the first areas in which this PC port loses some of the original’s unique charm. Instead of rotating your mobile device 90 degrees, fighting is initiated with a simple right-click of the mouse. Simple enough, eh? On paper, yes, but the game tarnishes the illusion of desperate urgency through its own pedantic attitude to the exact area of the screen in which it’s happy for you to click. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself cursing your luck as a click here and there doesn’t end up registering, disrupting the interactive flow and reducing matters down to a frustrating exercise in trial-and-error.
Changed too are some of the iOS devices’ more subtle endowments and almost certainly not for the better. The original’s self-awareness as a mobile game, forcing one to shake, twist and pluck items within the gaming space to solve many of the puzzles littering Sword & Sworcery’s beautifully-realised realm, is lost in translation on its PC counterpart. Instead of experimenting with a tactile interface in the palm of your heads, you’ll just have to make do with plain, old clicking. Okay so it would only be reasonable to accept some such compromises to the game’s control input, but it’s a transition that digs up yet more nasty gremlins as the game attempts to make up for its new platform. Once again, your clicks and drags of the mouse occasionally fail to register on-screen, leading to excruciating, patience-testing moments of ire as you strive to implement a puzzle solution that you already know, yet can’t quite put into action.
That’s not to say that you won’t get stuck of the game’s own volition, though. Just as they were on the mobile platforms, Sword & Sworcery’s puzzles tend to veer towards the obscure from time to time, churning out a few head-scratchers that will, at best, encourage you to think outside the box and, at worst, draw anguish from players unfamiliar with the long-held traditions of point-and-click adventure games. At times, however, the game’s propensity for lateral thinking is undermined by the fact that certain puzzles can be solved simply by clicking the screen aimlessly, conveying a somewhat farcical failure of the game to both reward logical pondering and gently point bemused players in the right direction.
Sword & Sworcery’s cohesive flow also takes a knock as a result of the regular need for lengthy backtracking through the vast stretches of the game world. While this would be problematic in any type of game, it’s arguably at its most bothersome in the point-and-click genre, in which the time it takes for your avatar to amble along to your desired location through as many as half-a-dozen screens is liable to disrupt the interactive engagement connecting you to the on-screen action. That Sword & Sworcery falls foul of this foible is far from surprising given the obtuse nature of its content, but the copious amounts of time taken to trot back-and-forth to complete relatively simple tasks goes beyond the level at which adventure game enthusiasts are typically willing to afford leeway to such shortcomings.
But what hasn’t changed is Sword & Sworcery’s eclectic soundtrack and visual beauty. The game’s transition to the big screen has done nothing to diminish the sheer artistic impact of its graphical style – an expertly rendered hallmark to the 8-bit era of gaming. Where it goes beyond a mere knock-off of the bygone days, however, is its tremendous command of light-and-dark contrast, an aesthetic quality that adds a whole new dimension of atmosphere and dynamism to the gaming experience.
Then, of course, there’s Jim Guthrie’s iconic musical score, which is as memorable now as it ever was on the iOS gadgets. A subtle blend of synth beats and delicate string compositions, Sword & Sworcery’s soundtrack is both fitting of its accompanying on-screen narrative and emphatically visceral in its own right, making it ripe for casual listening at home, on the bus and on the treadmill. It’s just as well too, for the Steam version of the game comes with the full, unedited soundtrack in digital form. That’s 27 tracks of aural awesomeness, all covered by the cost of the standalone game, and, for video game music aficionados, that’s quite possibly worth the price of admission alone.
Despite the sacrifices the developers made in porting Sword & Sworcery to the PC, it’s still a memorable experience, packed full of unique elements and stunning moments that will stick in the mind long after you’ve ploughed through its brief story. Those unable to take the game for a spin on a mobile device will have plenty to look forward to with this new PC port, but it’s hard to escape the notion that Sword & Sworcery‘s soul resides, and perhaps always will reside, in its raw, portable form.