Just moments ago, I finished the last segment of Superbrothers’ Sword & Sworcery EP (iOS) and am so moved by the experience, I am compelled to write in the hopes that I might persuade at least one other person to take the same journey.
Where to begin? S&S EP is so tightly put together I feel as if I’d be doing it a disservice to discuss it as anything less than the whole. If you can play it (and you trust my judgement well enough), you’re best to pick it up and experience it for yourself. For everyone else, I will attempt to break it down.
From the moment you open the app, you are greeted with highly stylized yet very human pixel-art characters. Though your adventure will only concern a few of them, each is distinct and instantly sympathetic, filling the world with unique personality before you’ve even properly stepped inside. Once you do, the tiny screen of your device seems a window on vista after breathtaking vista, each drawn on a grand scale in the same realistic pixel-art (!?) style as the characters. More than once I put the quest of the game on hold for a few mminutes to simply adire the view. There is a sense of quaintness contrasting with a sense of wonder that makes the world at once believable and exciting, beckoning you to explore. And, to top it all off, the air is filled with the music of Canadian Jim Guthrie, perfectly underlining the whimsy as well as the gravity of this little adventure. Never does the music simply provide a background to the visuals; in each scene it contributes in a critical way to the tone and atmosphere of the world. When conflict arises, the music rises to meet it, building and building as things intensify. And, as things cool down and return to realms of the more tender, the sounds guide you seamlessly in that direction as well.
The gameplay itself takes a similar role. Though most of the player actions will be familiar to many, possibly leading one to write them off as uninspired, I found that the minimalist approach further strengthened the setting. Certain aspects of the gameplay integrate with the visuals as well as the music, weaving the three together in a way I simply haven’t seen before. Each is an integral part of the experience and each relies on the other to create the evocative and surprisingly humanizing experience of the game.
There is a moment near the middle of the adventure where you are presented with a small and not entirely explicit choice. I only realized this choice because I desperately did not want to perform the obvious action laid out in front of me. By doing what little I could to avoid it, I was granted my wish, given what I needed to proceed, and recognized for my consideration. In allowing this one choice, the developers provide a tiny touchpoint for the humanity of the player, which for me was a thoroughly moving and emotional experience. It brought me much joy to see that decision echo in subtle ways throughout the rest of the game.
Lastly, I wanted to comment on the pacing of the game. It’s broken down into discrete sections, each of which take between 10 and 40 minutes to complete. Between each section, the player is advised to take a break and come back to the story later. I took this advice each time it was presented and found that I appreciated the game much more than I might have had I rushed through it in a single setting. Given my already rosy view of the game, taking a little time in between plays allowed me to reflect on the experience I’d had and savour the art of it. To further encourage these rest periods, certain events in the game are tied to the lunar calendar, forcing the player to pace themselves over a series of weeks. It’s possible to adjust your device’s internal clock to circumvent this, but I happily played along and thus got to enjoy the journey for almost a whole month.
The experience of Sword & Sworcery EP is a rich one for those with the patience to take it slow and to stop and smell the roses from time to time. It’s beautiful, charming, and inspiring, and integrates its aesthetic with its gameplay in some very intelligent and exciting ways. Again, I recommend it highly. If you don’t want to buy it on iTunes (iPod/iPhone here, iPad here), then please: come over to my house, sit down on the couch, and play it on my iPod. It will be there for a very long time.