Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP for the iPad is like nothing else you have ever played. Described as ‘a 21st century interpretation of the archetypical old school videogame adventure’ it uses beautifully crafted pixel-scapes to do for video gaming what the impressionist painters did for art.
A collaborative project from indie studio Capybara, rock musicians and art from the Superbrothers themselves, Sword and Sworcery EP is a essentially a point and click adventure game that sees you cast as a warrior out to destroy an ancient evil. To do that you’ll need to solve puzzles, fight bears and collect an artefact called the Megatome – so far, so adventure-game. What sets is apart from the likes of Kings Quest however are the lashings of surrealism, abstraction and poetry that somehow never slips into infuriating pretentiousness.
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The real star isn’t the music or the mysticism, however, but the visual style. It’s absolutely perfect, causing us to frequently stop playing for a moment or two just to admire the scenery – no mean feat considering the outstanding visual quality of most modern games. The landscapes are rich and detailed and invoke a near painterly quality. There’s a rare sense of artistry to Sword and Sworcery that we’ve not seen in a long
Sword and Sworcery’s music is still exemplary, however. The sound design has been meticulously crafted, fitting perfectly with the gameplay and creating an absorbing atmosphere that genuinely hooks you in to the moment. The sounds and music towards the end of our first session built a huge amount of tension and it was only after the threat – which we won’t name to avoid spoiling it – passed that we realised that our eyes were stinging due to lack of blinking.
A major drawback of most iPad and iPhone games is that they fail to make the most of the touchscreen interface or try to shoe horn in an ineffective d-pad. Point and click games seem like an assured win for touch-screens however, so Sword and Sworcery is a natural fit. It doesn’t limit itself to the conventions of the genre though, using screen-tilting mechanics regular switches from landscape to portrait to keep things interesting. In landscape mode you’re able to move around with your sword and shield equipped, while turning to portrait position opens your Megatome – a combination spell book and help guide.
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Sword and Sworcery isn’t all hard-core art-game, however – there are points of genuine humour and awesome subtlety. At one point, for example, you have to travel into your dreams to find a lost key, which involves following a bear which dances like Ricky Gervais in the Office. It’s a moment which, like the game as a whole, feels beautifully surreal and yet oddly poignant.
Sword and Sworcery could be a landmark in history of mobile gaming, proving to be the first title we’ve seen on the iPad platform which so wonderfully blurs the line between gaming and ambient art. Pensive, intelligent and wonderfully rich, you can feel the deep love and adoration for gaming that has gone into this project and it shines from its every pixel.
Superbrothers: Sword and Sorcery EP is developed by a whole host of talented artist and is available for the iPad via the AppStore.