Friday, June 22, 2012

Game Review: Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP

Hey all, finally starting to get back onto the review thing. So I finished this game a bit ago, and I must say, I was extremely impressed.

First I should try to explain what the game is. S:S&S EP is, um, I suppose the closest thing I can call it is a point-and-click adventure game, but really this is kinda genre-busting. Developed by Superbrothers, an indie game development studio, along with Capybara Games and musician Jim Guthrie. In their own words: "S:S&S EP can be interpreted as a streamlined 21st century re-imagining of the point & click adventure videogames of yesteryear. Alternately, because of the primacy of Jim Guthrie's musical score, S:S&S EP can be understood as a prog rock concept album you can hang out in." By the way, if you check out their site, it's chock full of great info on their design process and the thoughts that went into it and links to the great meta-game stuff, so if you like that stuff you should totally go look. I wish more companies did that.
Basically, you play the Scythian, and saying any more of the story will ruin your experience. If there's any single phrase I can use to describe S:S&S EP, it's a "video-game poem." By this I mean it's a short, sweet piece of work, lovingly symbolic and self-aware, covered with gorgeous imagery and a melodic beauty to the sound that leaves you feeling fulfilled despite what could easily be a boring experience if reduced down to its gameplay alone. It takes a small thing and works it for everything it's got. Its power is greater than the sum of its parts.
I won't be giving a whole section to plot to avoid spoilers, but it's pretty great. The main means of conveying dialogue is through thoughts being recorded in the Megatome, which is a pretty interesting way to do it - as much plot as you care to read.

Gameplay: Very simple. Lots of moving aroudn in the environments moving, but with smatterings of combat, which is an interesting little mini-game. I would have liked some more variety in the combats - there's only a few enemy forms. The Trigon fights are a ton of fun though, and get very nerve-wracking, especially the third. I died several times trying to get the hang of their patterns. The strongest parts of the gameplay come from two things: interactivity and puzzles. The ability to double click pretty much anything and get a short comment on it was very nice, and I definitely double-clicked everything that was even remotely interesting-looking. The puzzles are when you're trying to find the sylvan sprites. Many were quite easy, but a lot were also really interesting and fun. The Reflect puzzle was awesome.

Graphics: Pure amazing. It's done in a very blocky pixelated style reminiscent of older times, but they're animated with the fluidity you can expect from a modern game. Motions have charm, but are not overly complex. The environments are nothing short of extraordinary. The interactivenss of everything blew my mind - click a bush sometime, or better yet, tap the water.

Sound: As a game with EP in the name, you would expect the music to be a big part of things, and you'd be right. The music is never actually a gameplay element, but it's always present, setting a perfect atmosphere. The game's lack of dialogue and voice acting means the music really comes to the fore (I actually wish there was a little more voice acting, I liked the voices I heard - in the Japanese one Logfella is voiced by Suda 51!). The music is really just great though, on its own or in the game. Since I got the game in the Humble Bundle I have a FLAC copy of the soundtrack, it's really nice. Jim Guthrie is selling the album himself on his Bandcamp, as well as a brand-new remix album. If you don't know him, Guthrie has been in a number of bands, but recently has been doing soundtrack work with S:S&S EP, Children of the Clone, and Indie Game: The Movie (soundtrack also available on his Bandcamp).

The Social Netowrk: The game has a built in function to tweet pretty much any phrase that comes up. I actually really like this because all of the lines seem like they'd be interesting tweets. I don't use Twitter though so I didn't get to experience this feature. They claim it enhances the experience though, so perhaps there's even MORE to this game.

Sessions: Here's a weird one. The game splits itself up into sessions, meant to be played in a single sitting, without the ability to save in-session. I made sure to never play from one session to the next back-to-back; it didn't seem like the intention, so I did the 4 sessions over 4 days. It drew out the experience and made it seem even more interesting. I still would've liked a quick-save though.

Conclusion: I am extremely fond of this game. Definitely my candidate for indie game of the year, almost definitel going to win it for best Soundtrack of the year for me, barring true excellence appearing (though it's gonna have competition - Halo 4's soundtrack is shaping up, ACIII and Borderlands 2, which will hopefully both involve Jesper Kyd. I love that guy!). The game is short and sweet and really the bottom line is that you'll get out what you put into it. If you just loosely pay attention and rush through with the sound low and everything, you'll find the game unsatisfying and short without much of a gameplay element there to support it. If you plug in your headphones, turn out the lights, and immerse yourself and simply explore the world and play, and generally just stuff your mind into the game, you'll find it an entrancing experience and a masterful reinvention of the point-and-click genre.
I simply feel compelled to give the game a perfect score, but I must admit that with the lack of variety in gameplay (other than the puzzles) and the requirement of pretty much full immersion and suspension of disbelief, I can't give it that perfect score. However, it's perfect if you enjoy the mentality and you can get into it, so don't discount it.
Score: 9.5/10, A.

So sing a song of sworcery, Scythians, and good luck on your woeful errands. Later.

End Recording,

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