This is part one of a four part, in-depth study of what makes a great game. Reader be forewarned, there be spoilers afoot.
If you’ve read the reviews for Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP, you already have a sense for how fantastic the game is. Boot up the app on your iPhone or iPad (the iPad version is definitely recommended), and you arguably get one of the best games to have come out of this generation. I say this regardless of the platform.
However, few know how complete and transcendental the gaming experience S:S&S EP delivers. We aim to lay it all out. For those of you who have never heard of this game, and those of you who don’t own an iOS device, we also aim to let you know why you should still take note.
Transcend The Familiar
I’m not going to hide the fact you’ve seen it all before. Time travel (Chrono Trigger), sword and shield hero on an idyllic quest (Zelda), retro pixilation (just about every old school adventure game on DOS as well as some recent new school throwbacks) – S:S&S EP can be seen as an homage to the gaming gods of old; but it does much more.
The game essentially presses tried and true gameplay and themes through its magical engine to deliver something surprisingly new, despite the pervasive familiarity. Much of this has to do with the iOS platform itself. The iPad in particular provides such a wide palate of physical interactivity that no other platform delivers, and right out of the gate S:S&S EP takes advantage.
Tapping and sliding allows one to get in touch, literally, with the world and its physics. Double tapping on a location prompts the nameless Scythian protagonist to walk to the designated spot. Double tap on a person or object of interest prompts a second person observation: “Logfella seemed to suspect that this woeful errand of ours probably didn’t have a happy ending”.
Rest assured the game’s design is much more insightful than just controls. The world itself reacts to your touch. Tapping on a tree will shake its branches. You can roil the water in a similar manner, causing a small splash effect with beautifully rendered jumping water bits. You can prod NPCs and animals.
Ultimately, these seemingly minor effects do well to draw you in. I found myself exploring the world more thoroughly than usual since it offered this tactile experience, versus limiting the gameplay to just directing the character to an interesting area via the d-pad, pressing the action button in hopes that something happens.
S: S&S EP incorporates the tactile experience in puzzles and strategy to a great degree. For example, one of your primary tasks in the game involves culling ghosts from the earth, in this world called Sylvan Sprites. You must solve a puzzle, or series of puzzles, to do so. For one puzzle in particular, the player arrives in the middle of an enchanted forest (of course) in the midst of a gigantic tree surrounded by lesser trees. To solve the puzzle, you need to tap on the lesser trees in a particular sequence.
Now, this is a testament to thoughtful design as completing this puzzle marks the end of the level and, to build momentum into the boss battle, S: S&S EP lets you do something epic – tear open the gigantic tree.
Trust me, the doing is much more spectacular than these words can express. Think of Chrono Trigger when Frog slices open the boulder in order to gain access to Magus’ castle. It was intended to be an epic event for sure, but that was just a cut scene. Even if you could do something more physical, say on the DS, you’re most likely doing it with the stylus because the touch pad response is not as great as with the iPad. On the iPad, S: S&S EP lets you put your hands on that tree, lets you control that separation of bark and wood. Instantly, you’ve connected in a more intimate way than with other games.
Then, when time comes to do battle, it prompts you to rotate the iPad vertical. The camera zooms in. At the bottom corners, sword and shield buttons appear.
The battles are really straightforward – it’s just blocking, timing and slashing. Essentially, in the middle of all the tactile newness, the game returns to a more traditional handheld experience for these particularly fun and memorable moments.
Next: Transcend The Audio