The puzzle-platformer genre is one that a lot of independent game developers have fallen in love with over the last few years. From Braid to Pid to Limbo to Fez, there’s something about creating a game that involves puzzle solving on a two-dimensional plane that really appeals to independent game creators.
Independent Finnish developer Facepalm Games are the latest freewheeling game makers to release a side-scrolling, two-dimensional puzzle-platformer. Their creation: The Swapper. The result? An incredibly atmospheric puzzler that introduces a fantastically unique, yet simple game mechanic that’s all brought together by a truly one-of-a-kind art style and a stirring soundtrack. Also, talking space rocks.
Most of The Swapper takes place on an abandoned and nearly destroyed space station called Thesus. It’s not immediately clear how things on the ship got so messed up, but text logs from former Thesus employees scattered throughout the ship, as well as the all-too-often whispering of strange space rock formations sitting on the space station, languidly, albeit clumsily, reveal the once-inhabited ship’s secrets.
Structurally, The Swapper is very Metroid in design. Solve puzzles to collect orbs, which give you access to new teleports and areas of the space station. A limited amount of backtracking is present, particularly towards the latter end of the game, but it’s nothing that you’ll tear your hair out over.
Early in the game, players acquire the swapper – a tool that allows the creation of up to four clones and, as the name suggests, gives you the ability to swap over to any of the aforementioned clones and take full control of it. When you activate the swapping ability, time slows down, giving you the ability to swap with pinpoint precision – a feature that you’ll eventually learn to really appreciate.
All of these mechanics may seem like just a novelty at first, but as you dive deeper into some of the game’s borderline-genius puzzles, you’ll realize that the two Scandinavian university students that make up Facepalm Games have built The Swapper around an astounding core concept.
Remember that feeling in Portal when you used the portal gun for the first time and realized the possibilities it held? The Swapper has moments that rival that feeling: the first time you’re falling down a chasm to your certain death, you create a clone on the ground, swap over to it, and safely walk away as your old self hits the floor with an uncomfortable crunch behind you. Or using the swapper to create a clone above you and then swapping up to it to gain access an otherwise unreachable ledge. The Swapper is full of moments that force you to think in ways that are usually foreign to most minds, and this is particularly true for the game’s later puzzles.
Puzzles increase in complexity as the game moves along thanks to the introduction of colored light sources. Blue lights will block clones from being created in the lit up area, red lights prevent the swapping ability and purple lights render your gun useless in the illuminated area. Space ship-y elements like gravity switches and teleports are also integrated in the later rooms to complete The Swapper’s satisfying, fantastically designed, and provoking puzzle suite.
The Swapper’s art style is something that quite truly sets it apart. Instead of using traditional digital textures, Facepalm Games used handcrafted art assets and clay to form the game’s areas. This way of creating the environments doesn’t turn out as cheesy as it sounds; rather, it looks different in a subtle way that’s difficult to pinpoint. Combine this with a touch of film grain overlay, and The Swapper visually distinguishes itself in a way that’s hard not to admire.
An inauspicious score which relies heavily on a piano is the highlight of The Swapper’s audio offerings. The game’s other sound elements are solid; the swoosh of teleports, the blast of the swapper, the crunch of bones as you (or your clones) fall to their death. Facepalm Games does a shipshape job of enhancing The Swapper’s atmosphere with a good audio base – even the voice acting is more than serviceable (which isn’t always easy to come by in an indie title).
The tour around space station Thesus clocks in at around four hours, although that number will vary depending on how well you deal with the game’s occasionally near-maddening puzzles. A download of The Swapper will set you back $14.99, a very fair price despite its brevity. If you consider the variety and imagination Facepalm Games crams into the space station Thesus’ walls, the experience is well worth the price of admission.
The Swapper is outstanding and unique in nearly every one of its respectfully concocted departments; its puzzles’ challenge, variety, and ingenuity are among the best you can find in the genre. Its presentation delights the senses in a very dark and arcane way that you’ll be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. While structurally The Swapper doesn’t innovate, its water-tight design ensures the player always knows where they can (and can’t) go next. The only thing The Swapper doesn’t get right is the story. Although you’ll encounter a thrilling finale that forces the player to make a provoking choice, everything leading up to the climax is convoluted and delivered in an overly cryptic (and, by extension, confusing and uninteresting) way.
You should most definitely play The Swapper if you haven’t already. Languish in its marvelous puzzle design. Soak up its immersive, atmospheric presentation. But most importantly, try not to take the story too seriously. It’d spoil what’s otherwise a near-perfect puzzle platformer pièce de résistance.
This review is based on a Steam retail version of The Swapper developed and published by Facepalm Games.
- Ingenious Puzzles
- Incredible Atmosphere
- Clumsy Story