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Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP

Sword and Sworcery is a majestic game. That’s not a word that’s used often in this industry. This deserves it though. From every pixel of sweat that’s been poured into the game, to the coffee powered imagination that flows with every twang of the guitar, this is a modern masterpiece.

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The opening musical notes and accompanying seven inch record sets the tone superbly. It’s clear that this is going to be unique, and at worst it had the guts to try something inventive and creative. I can appreciate failed experiments but mediocrity is unacceptable.

As a backing track that’d fit snugly onto a 13 & God record plays out, faint snowflakes can be seen drifting through the grey rainbow background. With no words or directions displayed, you’re greeted with three symbols: a small tag, a play button and an ‘i’. Hitting the play button causes a doorbell to ring. Greeted by a cigar smoking man, the adventure begins.

Sword & Sworcery‘s charm cannot be captured in screenshots. The environments delicately ebb with life and every singular effect builds to create a living, breathing world. While the world is low in pixels, the level of detail is high. Everything is lovingly crafted, from the deer that dart into the woods to the reflections cast in the lake.

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There was more emotional attachment to these pixelated characters than has been experienced in pretty much all other games. A simple movement of a few pixels within a wonderfully told story can bring more joy and sadness than most big budget blockbusters. A scene in particular gives you a choice, one that isn’t apparent and without pretentiousness. It’s harrowing. The way this scene is told from a few basic animations is, quite frankly, dazzling.

There aren’t enough pixels to displays facial expressions and yet here the bearing of a tooth or shrug of a shoulder speaks louder than any clichéd save the world escapade. It’s a game that is sometimes self-aware and playful; knowing its roots lay from hours spent playing Zelda and other 16-bit games. Yet there are never moments of grandeur. Its feet stay planted on the ground, no matter how wild the tale becomes.

You’re helping the star of the story, a nameless, female Scythian warrior that’s searching for the Megatomb. No more is explained than that. Within the story lies the importance of light and darkness cast by the moon. The lunar cycles can be altered by changing the date on your phone, or to achieve 100% completion there is a hidden way within the game that you must discover. As you journey through the land you’ll meet many weird and wonderful characters who all have a part to play.

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Meeting a wood chopper called Logfella, who already knows why you’re there, you follow him and his dog up an old road. A cheeky instrumental number kicks in that harks back to the 16-bit era with a modern twist. And so the adventure begins and it’s a happy one. Then, upon crossing a bridge, they suddenly stop and the music is consumed by a sinister low synthesiser note that pulses in. There’s something waiting up ahead. It’s not pleased you’re there.

The way the tone is shifted with such ease through the use of sound and the light of the Moon is humbling. It blows everything out of the water by returning back to basics and getting it so right. Musical numbers become recognisable and bring relevance to the story. One song will bring with it the relief that this chapter is complete, or fear as something fierce lies out of sight. Developers Capy – with the art direction of Superbrothers – have done a remarkable job.

Everything is well used to engage the user and give every event its own edge. Stereo headphones are important, the touchscreen used for navigation and the internal gyroscope to tilt the screen and activate combat or puzzles. Never does it feel forced or make use of a feature for the sake of it. It’s as if the very ideas have been lying dormant like a hibernating animal, waiting for the right platform to come along and wake it up.

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The small tag mentioned earlier links to your twitter account. This allows any of the dialogue to be instantly tweeted, should you so wish. Double tapping walks to the chosen area, holding your finger on the screen turns the walk into a run. Flipping the screen vertical draws her sword and shield, allowing you to fight away the evil festering in the forests. The majority of commands are explained when the time comes, often with one word commands giving clues as to what to do.

You are never lectured or hand-held. A balance is struck between explorations and pointing to the next puzzle. The Megatome, a giant leather bound book, can be opened to display the lunar cycle and what all the characters are thinking. New thoughts are highlighted and can read, often giving clues. Even if that’s just the dog barking at something.

There are times when you’ll scratch your head trying to figure what to do. However, you’re never truly lost and the reward of finding your way is like that of an old point’n'click adventure. And in many ways, this is a point’n'tap-turn-and-swipe adventure for a new generation.

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From that very first musical note Sword and Sworcery led me on an incredible journey, never letting go. When a game makes you laugh, sad, estatic at the finale and then sorry to see it end, you know that what you just went through was something special. Like the rainbows that the Scythian’s hate, Capy’s world casts rays of absolute bliss from beginning to end. This is one of the best games of 2011. Never thought I’d be saying that about an iPhone title.

Review based on version 1.02

10 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is the Deputy Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in December 2010. Get in touch on Twitter @shaneryantb.

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