Release Date: May 30, 2013
Developer: Olli Hariola, Otto Hantula, Tom Jubert, and Carlo Castellano
Publisher: Facepalm Games
Category: Platformer, physics-based puzzler
In many ways, The Swapper is an amalgam of some of the best indie PC games released to date, while still maintaining its own sense of originality in spades. A labyrinth of a 2D platform-puzzle adventure by Facepalm Games, at its core The Swapper is an intricate look at science, technology, and space. The entire time that I was playing, I couldn’t shake the feeling of games like Limbo and The Cave, where I could detect a bit of influence in the graphics, the level designs, and the moody puzzle solutions. There’s even a bit of sci-fi homage to space station console games like Dead Space thrown in there as well, in the cryptic messages (represented as the thoughts of giant alien rocks), computer terminal logs, and the mysterious evading woman that you seem to be hopelessly chasing after. But if there’s anything I’ve learned from playing this game, it’s that variety is the spice of life, and now we have another impeccable indie puzzler on our hands.
I won’t spoil too much of the story here, as part of the allure is trying to figure it out on your own, and mostly because I still don’t really know much of what is going on in the game myself. But that’s all just a part of the way The Swapper unfolds, and a flawless presentation is only heightened by an impeccable soundtrack and atmospheric space noises. Seriously, this is one game that you’re going to want to play with your headphones on. The game’s visuals are just as moody and pleasantly distinct, with tons of shadowy black and blue textures shrouding in every murky corner, and the world of The Swapper is surprisingly well-varied given its somewhat restricted space station and spaceship locale.
There are two main things that set The Swapper apart from other 2D platforming and puzzling titles, and these two components work together in perfect harmony to fully define the essence of the physics-based gameplay: cloning yourself and swapping control between each of your clones. Early in the game, you’ll be given the ability to make clones of yourself and place them anywhere within your range; up to four of them to be exact, so that you can have five total characters running around on the screen at once. Each of your clones will move in completely identical patterns, and will even look in the same direction as you at any one time. The only way to get rid of a clone is by having it run into another clone, creating a clone sandwich, or by leading it into a pitfall to result in a deadly demise. This comes into play several times during some of the puzzles, as you’ll always seem to need just ONE more clone than the situation will currently allow.
Luckily, you also have the incredible power to “swap” between each of the clones on screen, and then in turn create more clones from each respective body. It seems like an incredibly simple concept, but one that works wonders in execution, and you’ll be surprised at how much the developers were actually able to do with these two mechanics throughout the whole of the game. I mean, I could do that in real life too if I wanted, but you don’t see someone going and making a game about me! The controls on PC are always a breeze, with the left mouse button creating the clones, and the right mouse button swapping between them; although if I’m being completely honest, I did find it a little weird at first that you actually had to move your mouse left or right to make your characters turn and look in different directions (a lot of walking backwards for me!).
You may not realize it at first, but successfully understanding and implementing both of these procedures will actually enable you to reach new heights that you probably would have never dreamed of before. Think of it this way: you create a clone in the air way above your head; as the clone begins to fall, you quickly swap control into that second clone in mid-flight, before creating a new third clone even higher above the second, and so in. Pretty cool stuff, right? Everything goes into slow motion too right when you’re about to clone or swap your body with someone, so it’s actually a lot easier than it might sound at first. Of course, the game leaves a lot of these things for you to figure out yourself, and because of this minimalist level design, it becomes incredibly rewarding every time you DO figure something like this out on your own.
All of the puzzles in the game will involve these two core mechanics in one way or another, while also introducing a number of other head-scratching obstacles to get in your way and slowly impede your progress. For instance, different colored lights come into play pretty early on, and completely change up the way you’ll be cloning and swapping forever. Red lights prevent you from creating a new clone anywhere within the red light itself, or if the red light is in between where you are and where you want your new clone to pop up; conversely, blue lights work in a similar fashion, only these prevent you from swapping to another clone whenever there is a stream of blue light present.
Sadly, The Swapper proves to be a much more linear game than the Super Nintendo greats it tries to emulate in level design. The basic progression of gameplay through the overarching world map roughly goes like this: arrive at a new area, which branches off into several different puzzle rooms, solve each puzzle room in turn, and gain more orbs, use the required number of orbs to access the next larger area, rinse and repeat until you reach the end of the game. You’ll eventually be able to unlock a series of larger teleportation points, which let you move back and forth to different areas of the station with ease. But if you’ve been completing every puzzle as you go along in the game (none of them are that painfully difficult that a little thinking won’t solve), then there’s really no reason to revisit anywhere you’ve already been before. If you’re telling me that this is a true Super Metroid or Castlevania experience here, then I want to be able to retrace my steps and use my newly acquired powers to reach areas I never could have before.
But other than a lack of intricate map backtracking or perhaps a game length that is slightly on the shorter side, The Swapper easily stands as one of the greatest smaller-scale games I’ve played in recent memory. Don’t be too surprised to see this indie gem of a game pop up on the PlayStation Network or Xbox Live Arcade at some point in the near future, because the adventure is just really that good and needs to be shared. And the great thing about being able to clone yourself like I can is that now I can have one of me write this review, while another one of me keeps playing this fantastic game. But now that it looks like my review is just about done, I guess it’s time I reunite myself and just get fully immersed back into the game.
Story – 9/10
Graphics – 10/10
Gameplay – 10/10
Music - 10/10
Replayability – 6/10