Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP Hands-On Preview

One of the most surprising games we played at E3 this year was Capybara’s mysterious iPad adventure game, Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP. There’s a lot to unpack in just the title. Superbrothers is the artist whose unique style permeates the game world and characters, and EP refers to a vinyl record that separates the game’s two halves into Side A and Side B.

You play as The Scythian, a female warrior, though it’s hard to tell she’s female with the pixilated graphics, which lay a fuzzy veil over the environment. Your purpose isn’t apparent from the beginning of the game, but the goal is to find out what you’re doing and why.

On Side A, you start at the top of a mountain, and as you head down you’ll find branching paths. One of these pathways has a grizzled boor (a type of giant goblin) that you can chase down and eventually fight to the death.

Many items in the environment will react to your touch, like a flock of ducks that will scatter when you tap on them, or bushes that will rustle. You’ll also encounter characters who speak in short phrases, like the shopkeepers in the original Zelda games. This economical dialogue is not only there for nostalgic purposes– you can also post their 140-character speeches to Twitter to spread the game’s lore to your online followers.

Exploration seems to be the main focus of the game, but there is some combat as well. By tilting the device to access your inventory, you can draw you sword. Then when you face an opponent, you’ll be matched one-on-one, Punch-Out style, with taps to stun and a powered-up slash that can inflict damage.

Tying everything together are two important aesthetic choices: the music and the art. The artwork by Superbrothers makes Sword and Sworcery look unlike any iPad game we’ve played. Instead of sharp, high-res art, the game features abstract environments that are both imprecise and incredibly detailed.

The music is composed by Toronto musician Jim Guthrie, and he’ll make a few cameo appearances in the game, plucking on a banjo or shredding on an electric guitar. We were encouraged to think of the overall experience as listening to a record, with different ‘songs’ representing different areas and quests.

There’s so much creativity packed into Sword and Sworcery that it is almost overwhelming. But here’s one more example: The real-world lunar cycle is built into the game, so the moon in the background of the game will represent the phase of the real moon outside. Certain events, like more wolves during a full moon, are triggered by the lunar calendar.

Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP is a remarkably ambitious game, and even though it’s designed to be a shorter experience of a few hours (not including hidden content), it looks to be a memorable one. It’ll be released ‘when it’s done’, which we are hoping is just a few months away.

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