Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP review

I'm supposed to love this iPad game. The 1980's-era 8-bit graphics will appeal to anyone who grew up in that decade, and I admit I'm that old. The interactive bit-tunes music will be adored by hipsters, and alright, I've been called that before. The unique, non-mainstream, alternative gameplay will appeal to anyone who loves video games that are different -- guilty again, your honor. I should be rabidly drooling over how great Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP is, just like the rest of the Internet -- and don't get me wrong, it's a fine game that I like quite a lot -- but I just didn't have fun. In fact, the game annoyed me a lot.

In case I'm not making myself clear, I really do approve of Sword & Sworcery and what it tries to do. I think there should be more games like it. I love the art direction; the 8-bit-style graphics manage to impart more emotion than some games with millions of polygons and full-on motion capture. This is helped in no small part by the gorgeous electronic music by Jim Guthrie. When it comes to storytelling, Sword & Sworcery cannot be faulted. So far so good.

It all falls down in gameplay. For the casual gamer with time to kill -- and like other iPad games, this game was designed with these people in mind -- it's enough to keep you interested for thirty minutes at a time. But for anyone who's mildly up to date with what's been happening in the video game world, this game is just slow, awkward, and often annoying. Battle is a crude two-"button" affair with sword and shield. Boss battles are repetitive and far too fiddly with their timing. Even basic navigation -- getting around the world and such -- is a chore. Any modern console game would have corrected these problems easily. Sword & Sworcery ignores all the advances made in today's fast-paced games.

And that's just the thing. This isn't a modern console game. Sword & Sworcery wants you to figure out the puzzles on your own without handholding, and whatever "crudeness" that exists in the game is probably a conscious decision by the game developers. It's part of the point of a game like Sword & Sworcery. Others may find it charming, but I just can't get around it. I already grew up in the 80's, and I have no desire to go back. If you've ever played a "vintage" game, you'll know what I'm talking about. Games are so much better now. Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP is a triumph of music and art, but a video game? Bah.

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