When we saw the first trailer for Sway, we were immediately interested in getting our hands on it. Making a platformer that uses physics and a swinging mechanic to traverse a level, rather than the standard run and jump formula, seemed like a challenging task. We were happy to find that Swedish developer ReadyFireAim delivered on the concept, and made it loads of fun to boot. Sway has a few rough edges that keep us from giving it our highest recommendation, but it is well worth playing.
Sway is played by using either side of the touch screen to swing your main character through a level made up of suspended panels. Each side of the screen represents one of the main characters’ hands. When you touch a side of the screen, the corresponding hand grabs onto the panel. When you stop touching a side, the hand lets go. When gripping, you can move your finger back and forth to start the character swinging. This is governed by realistic physics, and it’s your only source of locomotion. The controls do have a bit of a learning curve, but the game does a pretty good job of pacing your progress, and a nice tutorial will jump-start you. After some practice, you can get into a rhythm of swinging from hand to hand that is surprisingly fun.
Another great part of the game is its charming aesthetic. Your characters look a bit like sock monkeys, and they take visual inspiration from just about every overexposed cultural meme. You can unlock a monkey, a ninja, and a robot, among others (what, no love for the pirates?). These unlockable characters are not necessarily better than the original, but each plays differently. Finding the right character for your style makes the game much more fun. The music in the game is charming at first, but is pretty limited and gets old quickly. Fortunately, running Sway with sound effects only and your own music works just fine.
There are 15 levels in the game which will take you anywhere from less than a minute to complete, to more than ten minutes for the more difficult ones. The levels are paced a bit like a conventional platformer, in that you can try to rush through them, or play them more slowly and carefully. For instance, the realistic physics allow you to swing your character violently around and slingshot them across the level. If you are lucky you will come down near something you can grab, skipping much of the level’s trickier parts.
However, the developers prevented this from breaking the game by placing collectible stars throughout the level. These are not required to beat each level, but you need them to earn good medals. Also, unlocking new characters involves retrieving three keys placed throughout the level. Going back to complete these challenges is really important to boosting replay, since beating the levels the first time goes a little too quickly for our taste. Getting a gold medal on every level is quite challenging and will extend the life of the game for dedicated players.
Though we enjoyed ourselves most of the time, our experience with Sway was not without frustration. There is not much room for error in the game. You can expect to die quite often. The developers were mostly good about spacing checkpoints throughout the level, so that you never have to replay an area too many times, or play perfectly for too long of a stretch, but we still got stuck for a few annoying minutes on a single maneuver. Getting past a hard part, and then falling to our death because our thumb slipped off the touch screen was also pretty frustrating. Also, the developers had to take the good and the bad with realistic physics; it’s possible to get your creature stuck on the top of an obstacle, forcing you to go into the menu to kill him.
But Sway’s quirks were not enough to keep us from coming back. The swinging mechanic feels so good that it sticks with you after you set your iPhone down. It is really fun to see yourself improve and start pulling off more and more impressive swings. The more challenging level designs shine, and it is unfortunate that there are not more of them, but even once you have beaten the game there is good reason to go back and get all the gold medals. It’s not the best value on the App Store, but if you are looking for a fresh and challenging action game, Sway is the way to go.