Are games art?
It's a more interesting question than you might think. Even the biggest developers frequently design their wares to be flashy disposable toys rather than lasting artistic works, but Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP is a determined stride in the opposite direction.
Taking the role of a Scythian warrior, you'll embark on an epic adventure to reclaim a magical artifact by exploring a rich 2D environment, solving some light puzzles and engaging in streamlined combat. The story is derivative by design; evoking fond memories of classic adventure games whilst poking fun at genre conventions. Its puzzles are clever, the premise is sound and the adventure is addictively compelling.
But this is just half of the experience - and whilst I can't really discuss what's really going on for the sake of, you know, rampant spoilers, Sworcery does its best to make you think about what it means to be a gamer as well as what games ultimately are. After all, you take time out of each episode to converse with a mysterious cigar smoking "Archetype," which should already start alarm bells ringing. Deeper meanings and commentary abound, and you'll need to use your head for more than just puzzle solving.
Sworcery is an attempt to create a multi-sensory synesthesia experience, and manages to absolutely nail the concept of blending visuals, sounds and tactile feedback. Its lush sprite-based visuals are a deliberate throwback to classic adventure games whilst being beautiful in their own right, and the soundtrack is gorgeous without hyperbole. The 3D audio goes beyond the excellent music; providing an ambient audial treat that's best enjoyed with a pair of good headphones. An accessible touchscreen interface encourages players to poke and prod at everything and everything, providing slick control and another level of immersion.
But the writing ultimately steals the show, and in an interesting twist, each and every description or line of dialogue is less than 130 characters long. Twitter is built into every aspect of Sworcery, meaning that you can tweet pretty much anything at any time. As well as being a phenomenally cynical marketing tool, this also arguably turns the solo outing into an organic, online experience that blurs the boundaries between online social networks and game world. Or not. Like most works of art, judgement is in the eye of the beholder.
Frankly, playing Sworcery will genuinely enrich your life. It's food for the soul.
My one gripe - and please understand that this is a personal bugbear - is that Sworcery tries a little too hard to be 'arty' and 'experimental' for the sake of it. Rather than sitting back and letting us journalists proudly proclaim that the experience is a work of art, it continually barrages the player with pretentious comments and design touches that are blatantly ordained to rub our faces in just how kooky everything is. It's a tad embarrassing to be honest.
A work of art can be recognised as such without it having to constantly tell you so. But despite its pretension, Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP is an outstanding game that that deserves every shred of attention it so desperately craves.
- A perfect fusion of visuals, audio and touch
- Simultaneously referential and unique
- Incredibly deep, introspective and surprising
- Deeply, deeply cynical
Summary: Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP is a worthwhile, unique and cerebral game that that's genuinely good for the soul. Cynical or no, it's an essential purchase and an experience that will be talked about for years to come.
Developer: Capybara Games
Compatibility: Compatible with iPad. Requires iOS 3.2.1 or later.
Price: £2.99 - App Store