Sometimes a game comes along with a gripping narrative which grabs hold of our hearts and minds, and refuses to let go. We’ll be up for days pondering the significant impact the characters had on the outcome of the story, or mourning the loss of the love interest or the lead character’s puppy. However, sometimes a game forgoes all of that messy nonsense and just gets right to the guts. Have fun, blow stuff up and cause mayhem, AKA the Michael Bay Effect. Swarm definitely belongs in the latter group, but just like a Michael Bay film gives us lots of pretty things to look at and chaos to enjoy, is it enough?
When you’re just looking at screenshots it’s extremely difficult to tell exactly what the hell is going on in Swarm, but in practice the game is very simple. Each level starts you out with 50 of the little creatures called Swarmites which you control as a single group at all times. All you need to do is get at least one of them to the end of the level, though this is easier said than done. Many obstacles block your way, including large gaps, bear traps, pools of gas or fire and all other manner of nasty tricks.
One button is assigned to grouping the swarm, one for spreading them out, and another for jumping. Using a combination of these you’ll be able to perform more complex tasks ranging from stacking the swarmites on top of each other, or dashing to run faster or break something. Again this sounds pretty basic, and in reality it is. The controls can be a little finicky though, leading to you sometimes jumping when you meant to stack up, or dashing when you simply meant to spread out.
Thankfully, death is all a part of the game. While you only start with 50 swarmites and can never have more than that, there are many spots in each level that will replenish your count by a certain number. These are usually spread out just often enough that when all hope seems lost, you’ll come across one with the last member of your swarm. Should all of your swarmites die you’ll be set back to the last checkpoint, which again are frequent enough that you never have to repeat too much of a level upon death.
The levels are presented on an overworld map that is very reminiscent of World of Goo, with only one level unlocked at a time. Beating any given level isn’t enough to unlock the next one however. Instead you must achieve a certain score, which will often see you having to repeat a level a couple of times to learn the flow and try again to build your combo up sufficiently.
There are little ‘orbs’ spread across the levels of various sizes and colors which will increase your score and your combo meter. Obviously getting a high combo is key to getting a good score. The counter ticks down the longer you take between picking up another orb, and if it runs out your combo starts over. There is another way to keep your combo going however, which is the death of a swarmite. A careful balance between picking up the orbs and killing your swarmites (intentionally or otherwise) is the key to success.
The first few levels follow a familiar course of introducing you to a new gameplay mechanic and introducing it well in the level, and while these are shown at a nice pace for the first few levels, it’s not long before you’ve learned all the tricks in the game and instead must focus on mastering them and applying them in new ways. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but as the levels stop introducing new things they instead start ramping up the difficulty.
The key problem with this is that the majority of the difficulty comes from fighting the controls, which work well enough considering the complexity available by just combining three different moves. The problem comes when more precision is needed, and those tiny mistakes I mentioned earlier where you jump instead of stacking will result in running your entire swarm into a lake of lava rather than stacking up to reach the ledge above it.
Thankfully the game is very forgiving, and in the end is still a lot of fun despite the small issues and frustrations which will pop up along the way. Death is inevitable, and the sooner you realize that the sooner you’ll learn to stop worrying that you just ran your team into that wall of saw blades for the 10th time and instead just have fun with it and try to do better next time. In the end that’s what Swarm is really all about.
The game’s relatively high level of difficulty and trial & error style gameplay may not appeal to everybody, but those that stick around will be rewarded with a game that might not be perfect but is still pretty damn fun at the end of the day. The game is dripping with charisma and humor which is noticeable even at the title screen, warning you not to press “Y” (try and resist it, I dare you). Swarm is definitely worth your attention if these things appeal to you, I suggest everybody at least download the trial and see if it grabs you.
Swarm is indeed very much like a Michael Bay movie. While it may not technically be the best and has it’s share of problems, it’s hard not to enjoy it even on some carnal level.
- Title: Swarm
- Platform Reviewed: Xbox 360
- Developer: Hothead Games
- Publisher: Ignition Entertainment
- MSRP: 1200 Microsoft Points ($15)
- Release Date: March 23, 2011
- Review Copy Info: A review code of the title was provided to DualShockers Inc. by the publisher for the purpose of this review.