It seems like forever ago that Capybara Games announced their newest game to the world, the dungeon crawler and roguelike Below. Since the announcement there’s been renewed interest in their original release, and for good reason. Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP, an odd but artistic adventure starring pixels and more pixels still, made a huge splash when it was released back in 2011, a time when mobile gaming was still in its infancy, with the various app stores still finding their legs, primed and ready to change the way we played games.
By change I’m talking not talking about just the addition of touchscreen controls and physical interaction, but how much time we spent playing with them as well. Meaning bite-sized, easily consumable experiences were a much better fit on phones and tablets, platforms that would soon overwhelm every facet of our waking – and sleeping – lives. I never had the chance to test this touchscreen future, but remember being enthralled with its style and wanting to try it out for myself. So now, years after the rest of the world discovered the game already, I’m finally able to head in fresh with Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP, updated for the Switch.
Disclosure: my first actual exposure to the unique style of Capybara was embedded within a little game for the PS Vita called Sound Shape. Actually, this was more a shared project with many other developers and musicians, though Superbrothers and Jim Guthrie’s contributions easily stood out from the pack. Simple and straightforward, it featured incredibly sharp pixel art boasting a unique flair I’d never seen before. How would a game entirely designed and intended for mobile fare on Nintendo’s console?
Sword & Sworcery is a lot of different things. It’s a point-and-click adventure, a mobile game, a puzzle game, a farce…it’s also an interactive story. All of these things are wrapped in a package of pixels that sometimes seems prettier than what the game itself actually entails. There are lots of thought puzzles, adventure elements and other oddities that felt new and fresh, including its bizarre story that plays out like a self-aware David Lynch interpretation of Lord of the Rings, with just a splash of The Legend of Zelda. Sometimes it’s cliche, sometimes it’s bonkers, but it’s something worth experiencing on your own.
Not only are the visuals strikingly pixelated but the music is also incredible – possibly the game’s best feature. Jim Guthrie, a Canadian musician, crafted an amazing soundtrack that never really sounds like your standard gaming soundtrack, flowing more like a traditional album than a supporting one. That’s probably intentional (look at the game’s name). And I’ll be honest: I’m writing this review while it’s playing in the background.
The game’s retro aesthetic carries a ton of weight and value toward its presentation, and has rightfully earned its indie/retro cred. Where things can fall apart at times is in puzzle design and simplicity. It’s vague and straightforward to a fault, and can sometimes feel like a chore trekking from screen to screen to get somewhere else.
Some of the puzzles can feel a little simplistic, yet frustrating at times. Since the game originated on mobile devices where touch screens are the main focus, Sword & Sworcery relies heavily on mechanics that involve rubbing, touching and pressing the screen, and other tactile inputs. One awkward puzzle took me a good five minutes to complete as I was asked to rub the screen, but my inputs weren’t recognized the way the game ‘wanted’ them recognized. There weren’t clues or hints to let me know the solution. Hint: I wasn’t rubbing long enough, something specific that would have been nice to know.
The puzzles often felt like the developers were experimenting with the newer possibilities of touch controls, testing out various things with the phone’s hardware. I’m not faulting the game’s ambitions, but some of these experiments can feel slightly dated.
The Switch version adds some traditional joystick controls, though these can feel unnecessary and wildly inconsistent at times. Half of the time the actual physical buttons were completely superfluous and only added to make console gamers feel more at home. I would jump back and forth between physical and touch, but I eventually wised up and opted to play the game the way the developers intended.
Default Joy-Con controls seemed innocent enough: your left thumbstick controls an onscreen pointer cursor while the right thumbstick moves your character around. You’re able to switch which thumbstick does what, but pressing other physical interact buttons seemed inconsistent. Thankfully, these work in conjunction with the stock touchscreen controls, meaning a hybrid of both was the ideal compromise. Honestly, just stick with touchscreen controls as the game was clearly designed for them.
Minor control gripes aside, Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP on Switch remains a compelling experience. It’s blissfully short, sticking to its original mobile-friendly design with plenty of breaks and easily digestible content. Even today, the game is a tremendous achievement in visuals and sound that will probably hold up forever. If you’ve played the game before, the Switch version doesn’t really add anything new, other than mandatory physical buttons, and may not be worth the meager investment. Unless you’re looking for an excuse to hear that amazing soundtrack again. In that case: buy buy buy, enthusiastically.