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  • Posts Tagged ‘pixel art’

    Games I Like: “Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP”

    2011 - 08.26

    I have no idea how they settled on such a mouthful of a name, and we already went over how much I kinda think tabets are stupid, but I have to admit: This game is totally radish.

    To sum it all up in one paragraph, it’s an 8-bit retro style puzzle/action adventure for the iPad (and other devices now too) with a charming sense of humor and masterfully done sound design. Why is it so cool? Well, I’d say simply “the vibe”. We’ll expand on that in a minute. Watching their trailer should give you a good idea (note, although they humorously insist otherwise, I don’t think watching this really spoils anything):

    I was leaving the next day, and so played through the entire game in one night on my cousin’s iPad, which took me about 3+ hours or so. I also played it almost in darkness, and with in-ear headphones on, which definitely added to the experience; counterbalancing the fact that I rushed all the way through the game in one sitting. Most definitely it would do the game better justice to space it out and play slowly.

    One of the innovative ideas it tosses out is that to complete certain stages, you need to play the game when the moon is in a certain phase. As in, the game knows what the actual moon, orbiting the Earth, is doing, and certain events can only happen on certain days of the month. That’s a brilliant concept. Obviously, if you’re determined, there is a way, within the game, that you can get around this. It’s almost too bad that they allowed you to. But still, awesome idea there.

    The game has a mimimal cast of characters, and essentially no spoken dialogue, outside of the rare humorous banter from a woodsman called “logfella”. His trusty sidekick “dogfella” serves as a guide to keep you on track when the goal maybe isn’t as obvious–always a welcome touch in any game. There were a few moments where I caught myself fruitlessly backtracking because I couldn’t figure out what I was supposed to be doing, but on the whole I managed to stay on task, which is a key attribute for puzzle games.

    The humor is a consistent source of enjoyment as you play. For example, you happen across some interesting detail in the woodland scenery and double tapping on it produces a small bit of text saying something to the effect of: {We happened across three spooky looking graves, randomly near the side of the road, and we wondered what was up with that.} This is a text adventure and for the most part, the text will keep a grin on your face.

    It’s also pretty overdramatic, for an 8-bit affair. There’s lots of lightning and thunder, there’s swords being raised to the sky, rainbows, giant stone faces, mysterious tomes, 8-bit monsters that somehow manage to be actually kinda scary, and enough little cryptic snippets of folklore to give the illusion that some larger, grandiose tale is hidden behind the minimalist framework of the game itself. The 8-bit art style works excellently in this magical mideval setting, where the pixelation gives you just enough detail to understand what things roughly look like, but at the same time obscures them to the extent that you sort of find your brain filling in the gaps, like how you imagine characters beyond an author’s description when you read a novel.

    S: S&S EP (that’s how the game abbreviates itself) is split into 4 acts or “sessions”, which is hip. A mysterious cigar smoking man with a giant throne called “The Archetype” provides a brief plot review and critiques your progress, before 8-bit curtains close over the screen with a thunderous mechanical clanking. Chapters are good. And giving credence to the “EP” in the name, there are sections of the game which take place inside of a dream. When you reach them, there’s a sweet visual of a record rising into the night sky and flipping over from side A to side B. A neat touch. I love the fact that there is a real world and a dream world, and in certain parts, they do overlap a little.

    When you first reach the dream world, the word “dream” appears in the sky, slowly fading away. There’s a few other parts where they do this same technique, for example “believe” when you stand on the store of a lake that it turns out you can simply walk across. It’s cool. You spend more time doing ‘sworcery’ than swordsmanship in the game, sleuthing out forest sprites with your magical musical abilities. The gameplay works; it’s fun. The pixellated, misty forest atmosphere makes you feel like there’s magic in the air, and you’re part of it.

    Something ususual for a game, and smart, is the fact that in the early stages you have 5 stars of health, and as the game progresses, you actually get fewer and fewer stars of health, until you eventually can only have 1, near the end.

    The final thing I’ll comment on is how totally BOMB the sound design is. Every little bird chip, raindrop, wolf howl, or chime to guide you toward a puzzle solution is meticulously chosen. It all fits together so cohesively. The game has sporadic music which plays after certain events or in certain locations too, which serves well to build the dread as monsters grow near, or heighten your triumph when a key solution happens. For those so inclined, composer Jim Guthrie has a 180g vinyl release “Sword & Sworcery LP: The Ballad of the Space Babies”

    I love how the soundtrack is the LP and the game is the EP. They’ve got some high-minded chatter over on the Superbrothers website, about how “One of our earliest goals for the game was to create a space that could also be described as ‘an album you can walk through.” Worth a read if you’re into the game. Normally I’d roll my eyes a bit at such artist-speak, but I have to admit, these dudes have kinda created something special here. Go play it!