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Swarm

Big Momma needs a brand new hat and she ain’t got no limbs. The time has come for you to lead her blue morons onwards to certain death in many gratifying ways, collecting the DNA she needs to grow some arms. However, she won’t be admiring her fashionable hat if she doesn’t have a head and eyes first. So get collecting that DNA goodness and bring it back to Momma.

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It’s not often you’re required to kill, maim, slaughter and generally be as cruel as possible to the playable characters in most videogames. There’s an entire medal system dedicated to how many of the little buggers you can lead to their deaths. Electrocutions, dismemberment, poison gas, impalement, the list continues. It’s the Olympics of Death, where bronze, silver and gold medals are awarded to the cruellest of players. Don’t kill them all though or Big Momma will have to spawn some more critters from her cord, pushing you back to the last checkpoint.

There’s something in the distinct, dark zaniness of Swarm that recalls images of childhood programmes such as Count Duckula and Trap Door. Its humour will be enjoyed by both adults and children alike thanks to the Tom and Jerry levels of violence on screen. As the blue dorks are spewed from Big Momma’s slimy cord or from one her ‘flowers’ they enter a world filled with traps and mechanical creations that hate the colour blue.

Swarm is a fast paced title. The blue imbeciles, like upright walking frogs, move with a sense of speed and the static screenshots fail to deliver the utter carnage that unfolds onscreen. Splicing the DNA of many titles and ideas, Hothead’s new downloadable title feels fresh. Even with the odd control slip-up there is a ton weight full of fun to be had.

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More a herd than a swarm, the group of 50 blue guys move together as you control them with the left-stick. Left-trigger spreads them out and right-trigger groups them together, also used to build up a boost of speed. ‘A’ jumps, or combined with ‘LT’ forms a walking blue tower, and ‘B’ sends one of the survivors off to collect a nearby object which could be a light bulb or bomb. The controls are simple but often require a combination of two buttons at once and don’t feel as smooth as they should. The trigger buttons are in constant use and moving a leaning tower of the swarm without them suddenly darting to their death can feel awkward and clumsy.

Momma’s tube grows as you collect points, reaching new sections of the map and squeezing another 50 blue bags of pus out to do her shopping. As the blue herd rambles forward they’ll collect bits of DNA and molecules. All the collectables act as points that fill a multiplier dial with each piece. Stop collecting and the dial, like a stopwatch, will run backwards. Fail to create additional points and the multiplier will end. Time running out on the mighty x26 multiplier you’ve built up? Worry not – throw a few of the little blighters in nearby traps and keep it running. Just don’t kill them all or the bonus is broken and it’s back to the checkpoint.

The ‘flowers’ are littered throughout the level and by passing over them any lost members of the swarm will respawn. As the difficulty increases these ‘flowers’ provide less new cannon fodder for your control; these guys don’t grow on trees. Keep enough of the blue simpletons alive and pressure points (showing the number required to activate) award more points and bonuses. Everything in Swarm’s design rewards the player for precision and speed.

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Swarm isn’t a big game. In fact, it’s rather short and ties in with the sense of speed over puzzles. Collect enough points and Big Momma will grow, her cord reaching further into the world, opening the next level and possibly a boss too if you’ve found the hidden DNA strands. And rather than create a huge list of lifeless levels with slight variations and the usual worlds (ice, fire, light, dark etc), what we have here is roughly fifteen sections on a map that can be ransacked for molecules. Swarm is a game that leaves you wanting more; something rare.

It’s not all exploding barrels’o’fun. The camera can feel too far away at times and this is compounded by the lack of a visible leader in the group. As the podgy gits explode and get thrown around the place it can get very confusing. There can be so much carnage onscreen that it resembles bullet hell, or more appropriately blue moron hell, and while fun it’s easy to lose control of the flock. By having a designated leader, a red ‘worker’, one in some form of random fancy dress or even simply a white circle as the centre point, it’d be clearer where the point of movement was that they would be following.

The game also bizarrely lacks a real sense of depth. It has shadows and there’s lighting, however it is often difficult to line up a jump. The swarm will tumble off the side or leap towards impalement as you accidently direct them to an abyss on either side of the upcoming platform. Judging how close or far away the smaller platforms are in comparison to the bumbling unit of blue idiots can be tricky.

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It’s hard to tell if it’s brilliant, bonkers or both. Some of the controls and general lack of visible depth cause trouble but when the checkpoints are well placed (not too generous, not too sparse) and respawn is a quick and painless process (for you) the frustration is blunted. You’ll repeat several sections and the little guys will run off edges or completely miss platforms but the game is built to accommodate this. Perhaps then, this game is designed to be unadulterated fun, plain and simple.

Swarm can be summed up in one sentence: There’s a big red button with a giant sign stating ‘DO NOT TOUCH’. Regardless of the mission at hand you can’t help but interact with everything along the way and Hothead have embraced this by making death as much fun as success. It’s silly, immature, creative and ultimately lots of fun from beginning to end.

8 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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