“Mythopoetic” isn’t a word that’s tossed around a lot in videogames– or anywhere outside of college philosophy courses, for that matter. This descriptor does apply to the game Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP, provided that you’re open-minded enough to delve into the collective gamer subconscious, and dazzled enough by the music and art to forgive some dull and repetitive gameplay.
Sword and Sworcery is a collaborative effort between three Toronto-based artists. Superbrothers provided the game’s distinctive pixel-art look, which allows for fine details like the rustle of bushes or a grizzled boor’s pink tongue, but through a blurry veil of colored squares. It’s similar to the painting technique of pointilism, and it’s used to incredible effect.
Touch, but don’t look.
The soundtrack comes from another artist, Jim Guthrie, who even makes a cameo in the game at a few points. Sworcery’s soundtrack is sweeping and trance-like, with recurring themes of danger and splendor. It’s no wonder that this soundtrack is being released as a stand-alone record. Sworcery’s music ranks up there with the best iOS soundtracks, like Zen Bound and Osmos.
With such stunning graphics and music, we’re disappointed with the game itself, which was primarily Capy Games’ part of the project. Sword and Sworcery is mostly an adventure game in the style of The Secret of Monkey Island, where you’ll explore an environment, collect a few items, and talk to other characters. You’ll also have to solve some puzzles, and rotate the device 90 degrees to engage in some reflex-based battles.
When good Triforces go bad.
This is where Sworcery’s magic spell starts to dissipate. The first 20 minutes of Sworcery is breathtaking, as you begin to explore this strange new world on a mission to obtain a mystical tome. But the next two chapters require a lot of backtracking over the same environment, with only minor changes.
You’ll solve environmental puzzles by using the “song of sworcery”, and these puzzles can often be solved by randomly tapping and swiping on the screen. If there’s a statement being made by the developers with these weak puzzles, we’re not sure what it is. Some of the larger set-piece puzzles, however, are much more impressive.
Combat is another missed opportunity in Sworcery. You’ll only face a handful of enemies, like a grizzled boor and a possessed statue, and the boss fights in the game are repeated three times. If you die during a boss fight, you’ll have to watch the lengthy introduction again, but Sworcery makes it clear that it’s not made for impatient, twitchy gamers.
Despite what we see as considerable flaws in the gameplay, Sworcery still manages to greatly succeed overall. It’s bursting with creativity, like the fact that you can tweet every single line of dialogue in the game to befuddle your friends. Sworcery also includes the phases of the moon as a gameplay element, but these can be manipulated in-game to save you the trouble of exiting the app to change your time and date settings.
The story that Sworcery tells is striking and elegant, evoking some of our favorite classic games like Out of this World and Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. But unlike those games, Sword and Sworcery contains limited environments and gameplay variety. It’s also a short game, and can be beaten in around two hours with little incentive to replay it.
Those two hours are rich and memorable, more so than a typical iPad game. Playing Sword and Sworcery is like watching a spectacularly weird animated indie film, and we want to recognize these kinds of creative leaps on the iOS platform. We recommend picking up Sword and Sworcery for the music and visuals alone, but sometimes the gameplay isn’t up to the same “mythopoetic” standards.