I was already excited to play the much-hyped Superbrothers : Sword and Sworcery game, so it was a no-brainer when the amazing Humble Bundle V came along. It’s a fun game, but more than that, I think it’s a really interesting narrative piece with an engaging story, interesting art, and some really unusual gameplay mechanics that defied the usual click-to-explore genre tropes. The Scythian, a warrior, returns from battle with a woeful errand ahead of her – to collect the pieces of the mysterious Trigon and hurl them into the whirling void – possibly at the cost of her own life.
Originally crafted for the iPhone, the game’s now been ported to iPad, Windows, Mac and Linux, but they maintained their super-fun pixel-art lo-fi look on all the platforms. I really love the look of this game. Despite the simple-seeming aesthetic, there are surprisingly complex subtleties to the shading, texture, colour and shape of the game elements that lend a richness to the environment. The game is worth playing just as an accomplished pixel art gallery – this is the way more games should look. 🙂 I’ve always been a little in love with 8-bit aesthetics, and the way it hints at detail while allowing your imagination to fill in the blanks.
The story unfolds in really creative ways. The Scythian never talks, but a few characters in the world will have fun conversations with you as you struggle with your task. The real development comes from the Megatome, a magical book that allows you to intercept the thoughts of the other characters. The writing is snappy and clever, and underlies a really deeply metaphorical “mythopeoetic psychocosmology” that references all kinds of Jungian philosophy and psychoactive dream-state parapsychology – which is a ten-dollar way to tell you that your character eats mushrooms and explores dreams and discovers a bad-guy spectre with a deer skull for a head that’s scary as heck. 🙂 Run away! Run away! DON’T LET IT GET YOU!
The soundtrack is deeply integrated in to the game – the music by Jim Guthrie plays a starring role, and is a key to some of the game’s puzzles. This is really exciting to me, knowing that musicians and designers can work together so closely right from the beginning of a game’s conception, and come up with more than the standard “music guy does background music” collaboration we so often see. I hope that this game inspires musicians and designers in the industry to allow music to play a more active role in games.
As for the gameplay itself – exploring was fun, but I found myself trudging along over the same few bits of background multiple times, which got tedious in spots, particularly the Moon Pool puzzle. There’s a few hours of gameplay here, which is a lot for a first-kick-at-the-can mobile adventure title. The controls were a bit shifty sometimes – I found myself in hectic moments unable to get out of battle mode to run, or unable to stop a spell that I didn’t mean to cast. For a game that involves as much running away as it does, the walking/running controls were a bit touchy too. I’d have been just as happy if the Scythian ran everywhere at full speed instead of trundling along at her snail’s pace most of the time. Battles were fun and uniquely presented, with bad-guys banging their shields and exploding into meaty chunks. Death is handled weirdly though – it basically kicks you out to the beginning of the battle, so if you’re terrible at timing you may find yourself endlessly repeating certain fights like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. The battle for the Full Moon Trigon took me six tries, which got tiresome just because it was timed to a 5 minute musical interlude and I’d always die on the last bar of the song. Considering the linearity of the game and the fact that you _have_ to get through certain spots, player death is an annoyance.
It’s a really cool piece of work that I’d easily recommend to anyone who enjoys King’s Quest style adventure games. At $1.99 or whatever on sale, it’s hard to go wrong – there’s lots to see and do and the story is interesting and cool. Just play it for the sake of seeing the cool art aesthetic, and the singing/dancing Grizzled Boor! 🙂 “Ah-ah-ah ahhhh” Super fun. 🙂