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Creativity in games is getting harder to find these days. While the possibilities are endless in theory, the vast amount of ideas tapped so far make it less obvious for developers to create something truly unique. However, Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP (S&S) is that one title that transcends any genre. It certainly isn’t without flaw, but it’s strange to see a game that relies so heavily on audio work out so well that also doesn’t happen to be a rhythm game; at least not at heart. This adventure is one of moods, vibes and flow.
The world of S&S stars a faceless heroine called The Scythian. It’s through her that you’ll vicariously get lost into the pixelated world of adventure. The locales such as forests and mountaintops are presented in blocky, monochrome simplicity but with expert touches of slightly differing shades to create landscape tableaus and scattered small pixels that give each scene its vigor. With the occasional modern enhancement of simple shades and ambient lighting, S&S does very little in order to achieve so very much by letting the imagination dictate what the game merely proposes as a base. A floating arrangement of white and orange pixels could mean anything from fireflies to dust reflecting sunlight, but what’s certain is that each panel lights up because of detail, even if there is none. As the animals scatter when The Scythian passes or water reflects the above view; it’s easy to see that S&S is a game that wants to capture the player’s attention. And it does.
As if the above merely aesthetic part of the game wasn’t done well enough, the actual high point is the accompanied audio component. There is no justifiable enough way to describe just how enthralling each morsel of sound in this game is. The entire adventure is enwrapped with wavy compositions that guide the player along each step towards their end goal. A certain landscape with a certain objective in mind creates a particular soundtrack, but S&S encapsulates the very essence of each situation to a point. From the singular somber notes as darkness emerges to simple airy sounds that chime in a relieving objective; S&S associates sounds to your psyche and does so with unparalleled charm. Especially since the overall goal is martyrdom, the sensory tones act as a way to pluck at the heartstrings, quite literally. Again, less is more and the simplicity of it all only heightens the total.
Therefore, it’s only to be expected that this modesty gets carried over to the actual gameplay or rather lack thereof. The game is split in sessions, where a narrator called The Archetype invites players along to jam. These sessions divide gameplay up in tiers. The first sitting is the lesser, which doesn’t necessarily set a rock solid first impression. It’s a straightforward introduction to the game that puts all the pieces into place and only sporadically actively needs the player to continue. Yet, as that session draws to a close and the events unfurl for the next sections, more and more of the player’s savoir-faire gets demanded, which creates the S&S point and click adventure of sorts.
Don’t expect a complex experience however. While S&S does present a few challenges, it’s still a minimal game at heart and finding the basic patterns often won’t require a lot of thinking. Still, these puzzles captured in the same sensory way as all other aspects in the game give a sense of gratification simply by being done, rather than overcome. Stringing along a waterfall like a guitar or rubbing on a rainbow are magical moments, because they are sincere. The difficulty level is only secondary to this notion.
Still, this also presents a few issues with the game; primarily that its minimal taste isn’t set aside for anyone. It’d be nearly impossible not to be moved by S&S and its engaging visual novel, but the chance however does exist that just clicking a few buttons and progressing through this 3 hour long game doesn’t suffice. Additionally, the transition from iOS to a PC game has made the game finicky to control. Actions are done through a series of clicks with the mouse, but just a brisk gesture can make the difference between moving and looking. Certainly during timed factors of impending doom, this can be an issue that ruins the otherwise excellent sense of urgency. In particular, the end sequence suffers from it.
Another poor decision is not so much the reliance of time in S&S that make the moon wax and wane as a critical point to the story; it is that it can treat players unfairly without notice. If you happen to start the game at the wrong time, you’ll be forced to wait it out or cheat in order to progress and play on, while other players do get granted an option to continue at whim. While this can be seen as an eccentric choice to enrich gameplay, in reality it just ends up as a frustrating event that might prevent you from keeping yourself immersed in the story.
Luckily, actively playing the game redeems a portion of that. Periodic combat elements offer a way to fight with just two buttons; one for a sword and one for a shield. In particular, fighting sequences with Trigon pieces can get pretty intense with their timed rhythm. Adversely, players can open up a book and read past conversations or get hints and indications from the few characters in the game. This standstill offers a slight break from the game’s pace to sit the player down and perhaps throw some witty remarks in there.
However, not one element that can be debated is as captivating as the game’s sound. Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP singlehandedly proves that audio as a factor alone can signify a game’s importance. Its sonic undertaking is what builds the game, beyond a pixelated art design that lets players envision their story the way they want to. It’s a shame that its controls aren’t up to snuff and that its simplicity and brevity leave a desire for more, but it’s guaranteed to be a formative experience while it lasts.
|Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP is unlike anything you have ever played before. Its resonating beauty made up of basic art design and stellar audio composition create a sensory adventure that will whisk you away, only to let you go so soon. If only it were a bit beefier, this unforgettable experience would’ve truly become the iconic game it deserves to be.|