Sophisticated, stylish, and full of intentional misspellings, Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP is a trip.
This cool and kooky adventure is as much a window into another world as it is a game. Brimming with originality and a unique sense of itself, there's no other game quite like it on iPad, or any other portable device, for that matter.
Yet, this uniqueness borders on the esoteric and more time has been spent dressing riddles with ethereal sights and sounds than focusing on gameplay.
The story of a Scythian warrior in search of an enigmatic power hidden deep in the Caucasus Mountains, Sword & Sworcery relies on mystical music and eye-catching pixel graphics to compel you through its mind-bending assortment of puzzles. While real-time battles appear from time to time, it's mainly about exploration and solving riddles.
An elegant control scheme enables you to double-tap to issue an order to move to the identified spot. Alternatively, you can hold a finger to the screen and your hero saunters in the selected direction. Tapping objects in the surrounding environment enables interaction, which is naturally critical to cracking some of the more involved challenges.
Items are stored in a small collapsible inventory at the top of the screen, yet unlike traditional adventure games there's no object combining or examination. Instead, the focus is on interaction with the environment, which acts as a character of its own.
Man on the moon
Time plays an important role in Sword & Sworcery, changing the forested mountain range in striking ways. The lunar cycle - the 30-day period by which the moon wanes and waxes from dark new to bright full - is central to the game's many mysteries. So much so, in fact, that you're prompted to adjust the date setting on your device to advance through the game.
This breaking of the fourth wall is interesting, but severs immersion in the game. Departing from the game's fantasy setting to your iPad settings menu is clever the first time, but annoying thereafter. It's essentially a complement: I'd rather stay in this wonderfully realised world than exit to my home screen.
Puzzles are frequently plain, consisting of little more than a couple of taps and a swipe. At times, it doesn't feel as though you're doing much of anything. It's as though you're absorbing the world of Sword & Sworcery rather than playing with it.
Combat spices things up a bit, but it's infrequent. When facing an enemy, you tilt your device to engage two buttons in the lower corners: one to attack with a sword and the other to raise a shield. Winning battles is a matter of deciphering simple attack patterns. It's a basic system, but the action and intense music ensure a nice break from the puzzle-solving.
Frequent reorientation of the screen does seem unnecessary, though. Every time you engage in combat, you have to flip your iPad around. Perhaps this will be better suited for iPhone and iPod touch, but I find it bothersome on iPad - even more so when you consider certain inventory items require reorienting your device, too.
Despite these quibbles, there's a magical quality to the game. The phenomenal presentation captivates - the music is absolutely fantastic, easily topping other games on iOS - drawing you into this highly original world time and again in hopes of deciphering its secrets.Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP feels more like an interactive art instalment than game, which is to say its praiseworthy abstract approach is not for everyone.