Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP full review
iOS games aren't supposed to be events - they're timewasters, digital trinkets meant to hold your attention for a few commutes, and then be discarded. For a few pounds you don’t need them to be anything more. You move on. You forget. None of that is true with Sword & Sworcery EP, a truly ambitious action-adventure from Superbrothers.
This is a gorgeous, sonically impressive experience, to the point where playing it without headphones is nearly criminal. But above all else, it's clear that Sword & Sworcery is designed to be savoured. We've come a long way since the days when we’d happily pay for apps that allowed you to empty virtual beer-cans, and Sword & Sworcery EP will be seen as a landmark in the platform's evolution. And oh yeah, it's an indie game. This wasn't supposed to happen.
Sword & Sworcery EP’s structure and plot are nothing new. Indeed, the game feels like A Link To The Past re-imagined as a Sierra-era point-and-click adventure. Only, it's so much more than that. You play as The Scythian, a silent female warrior recruited to protect a small town, though she may also be responsible for causing its destruction. The villagers’ feelings about your presence are similarly hard to decipher, which complements the truckload of ethereal mysteries presented to you as your wind your way through the game's five or so hours.
Not that you’ll complete Sword & Sworcery in that time on your first attempt. The fundamental task of collecting three golden triangles isn’t as simple as it first appears. Understanding where to go is half of the challenge, and the cryptic, foreboding dialogue, which incorporates aspects of text-speak, and the fact that the game-world is affected by the real-world's lunar phases doesn’t help one bit.
Sword & Sworcery EP can be obtuse and occasionally annoying, but it forces you to slow down and enjoy the game. Unlike, say, Angry Birds, you won't be able to solve some challenges by trying them over and over again. You have to wait for the time to be right. You have to explore, wander the impressive landscape, and check back later when something may or may not have changed. You have to let it sink in.
This will be counter-intuitive to iOS gamers used to instant satisfaction, but the tight integration of social-networking – reminiscent of the excellent Demon’s Souls – allows you to offer and receive guidance through services like Twitter. To me, however, this is felt like Sword & Sworcery EP's unique riff on achievement points – bragging rights for making progress.
Due to each puzzle's obtuse nature, every step forward feels like a genuine accomplishment, even if it's just noticing there are four grey and four white sheep on a particular screen. Many critics will likely cite Sword & Sworcery EP as further tipping the scales in tiresome "are games art?" debate, but I believe its effect will be far greater than that: it will alter our perspective on what iOS games can be and what they can do. When was the last time you could say that?