E3 2010: Hands on with Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP on iPad

A new cut

E3 2010: Hands on with Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP on iPad

It's difficult to determine what constitutes a 'cool' game. Is it snappy visuals? What about intense gameplay? Does a cool game offer freedom over linearity?

Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP proves that it isn't any of these things. In fact, it demonstrates that not one single element or mechanic defines whether a game is cool or not.

Instead, it's the philosophy behind the game design, the motivation of the game developers. In this case, developer Capybara Games has struck out to make something original and compelling without concern for anything other than realising their vision.

That makes Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP an alluring adventure by virtue of its uniqueness. Other games have a pixelated visual style and exploration-based gameplay, yet its the game's almost otherworldly vibe that sets it apart.

One with the world

As a sword-armed explorer, you're given free rein of a massive mountain populated by all kinds of creatures and fellow humans. Their role is a mystery and piecing together the meaning of the game and its puzzling story is done through exploration.

Interacting with objects, animals, and chatting with characters gives you bits of information from which you can decipher the digital world around you.

It's far more cerebral than any Zelda adventure, though that's evident from the smart visuals. Sword & Sworcery is as much an artistic endeavour as it is a game. "It's about art, music, and atmosphere," says Capybara Games president Nathan Vella.

The point is more salient on iPad, on which the game will appear alongside the previously announced iPhone and iPod touch version. Striking pixel vistas fill the screen with style and there's a sense that the game is to be absorbed as much as it is to be touched.


Of course, Vella wants you to engage in the game as much as possible by exploring and uncovering its secrets. Touting the mantra "exploration, not exposition," Vella explains that Sword and Sworcery is all about tapping to discover new locations, animals, and objects based on the lunar cycle.

Paths on the mountain, creatures, and scenarios are generated based on the moon's progress. Play one day and you might come across an item you've never seen before, whereas the next you may stumble upon a previously hidden path. "It's all about making everything about exploring," he says.

Combat plays a role, although a minor one. Confronting one of the game's earliest foes prompts a basic combat system that involved taps and swipes of the screen. It's crude, though intentionally so. Unlike other action-adventure games, the simplicity of the combat system almost encourages you not to fight.

Spot the difference

The impetus most certainly lies in exploration and taking in the digital surroundings. As you can discern from the screenshots, picking out objects and spotting animals in the pixel woods can be a real challenge, though.

For all of the art style's charm, its uniformity makes exploration tough at times. Picking out a dog near a row of bushes, for example, was difficult because its pixel body blended in too well.

Moments such as this make the prospect of playing the game on iPad far more satisfying than on iPhone, where small details will be harder to make out. Vella thinks the nature of iPad usage also fits the game well. "I'm hoping players sit down for an extended period of time with their iPad exploring the game, interacting with it."

Come autumn when Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP arrives for iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad we'll do just that.

Tracy Erickson
Tracy Erickson
Manning our editorial outpost in America, Tracy comes with years of expertise at mashing a keyboard. When he's not out painting the town red, he jets across the home of the brave, covering press events under the Pocket Gamer banner.