Superbrothers: Sword & Sorcery EP is unique, so it’s with levity that I refer to it as the hipster incarnation of The Legend of Zelda. It feels more inspired by Zelda, what with the heroic quest to assemble a triforce to prevent an evil spectre from ruling the kingdom. The hipster part is more related to the “vinyl record” imagery and not-so-subtle narrator:
The narrator voice is the one thing I could do without. Its hip juxtaposition to this historical fantasy adventure feels disingenuous. Here I am with an iOS gem, soaking in the music, the controls, the articulate (yet simplistic) art style, and lauding it all the while when suddenly a sycophantic social media intern starts prodding me in the back saying, “Have you gotten to the part with the boor yet? The part with the boor is my favorite part!”
But the “narrator” is tolerable because there’s not much of him/her and most of the characters have enough personality to speak for themselves. Where this game excels is every other venue.
Sword & Sorcery takes a unique stance on gameplay, having their protagonist grow weaker as you progress. This is contrary to most games as that reward your progress with a new item, ability, or increased health. By doing the opposite, the difficulty curve rises (and for the better). The bosses do grow stronger and their fighting patterns are less obvious. Because you can’t afford to take as many hits, you need to be vigilant.
It’s an innovative mechanic that fixes the problem in many other games. For instance, Casey’s main complaint in Skyrim was that he became a God by the end, so nothing phased him. Similarly, many people grind levels out of RPGs, so they don’t need to struggle. Imagine if RPGs worked in reverse, the way Sword & Sorcery does. You couldn’t simply rely on tapping the “attack” button, but you would actually NEED to resort to status affects and items. That’s a game I’d play — and I’d be doubly excited for Superbrothers and Capybara Games to design it.
Sword & Sorcery is more than action/adventure as it also ties in point-and-click gameplay. When you walk into a screen, you can enter Sorcery mode to click around, find a pattern, and unleash these sprite things to progress.
What’s brilliant about this mechanic is that I would be frustrated, but the music is so tranquil that any anger is abated… which brings me to the next part.
Jim Guthrie provides the wickedly mesmerizing soundtrack. The incredible part is that it works in tandem with the gameplay — literally. The game’s simplistic art could’ve been its downfall when you enter into battle mode because you fight on a Z-axis. It’s not clear how close your enemy is to you… but due to the music (which seems to double as the sound effects), you know when to attack — if you listen. It’s incredibly well done and sets the tone for each battle and location.
(More on this is my post-script section.)
It’s worth mentioning the length of the game because many indie games run the length of a demo. Superbrothers: Sword & Sorcery though is the perfect length for what it is. I say that because there is a lot of backtracking, but unlike most games that require backtracking, it’s never too far to make you sigh and question your life choices as you trek.
Plus, once you start messing with the lunar cycle, there’s enough differentiation to the revisited areas to keep you engaged.
Heart & Soul
Ultimately, the game has heart and a good sense of humor. I may not be as taken with the narrator as others, but there are genuinely funny moments throughout the game. The dancing boor is a treat and the “sociopath test” is hysterical.
My favorite part in the game was when I needed to change the lunar cycle… and I didn’t understand what to do. However, I asked the townsfolk, who responded cryptically — I still didn’t get it. Then I met some ghosts who told me what I needed to do, but not necessarily how. Then, I found a lone ghost who flat out told me what I should do. It was like having an interactive support hotline! These characters were placed in a logical order so that you’d stumble upon them chronologically if you were struggling to find the solution and I didn’t feel like I cheated — it’s deliberate.
This example pretty much sums up the heart of the experience for me.
Superbrothers: Sword & Sorcery EP is a cohesive game. Like my review of Bastion before it, every piece of this game falls into the place: the music, the graphics, the gameplay, the mechanics. All of it flows so well that you get the distinct impression everyone worked together, swapping stories and intentions in daily SCRUM meetings. This is how I always want to feel when I play an indie game because it’s clear everyone put in equal effort.
So much personality is stuffed into Sword & Sorcery, it’s impossible not to love it — well worth the purchase.
PS. As I played this, I learned of iMuse in Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge which featured two music programmers splicing the music together so that when you exited one screen, the music faded seamlessly into the next musical score. A process that took as long to develop as the actual game… and gone mostly unnoticed. The unsung heroes. In Sword & Sorcery though, the music works altogether and the designers (in-game) point out Jim Guthrie’s work and how much they adore it. It’s a really nice way to show appreciation.
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