In a time when virtually anybody with the right skills and enough perseverance can make a game, indie platformers aren’t exactly in short supply. Each month, it seems as though Steam, PSN and the iOS App Store are rife with a multitude of different takes on what is possibly gaming’s most iconic genre.
Finding a truly innovative modern platformer isn’t always an easy task though. Only once in a while does a game in the calibre of Braid, Limbo, Spelunky or Fez appear. Obviously when such a title does arrive, critical and community acclaim usually follow. These games are true diamonds in an oversized area of rough where most publishers seem happy just to rip off the likes of Rayman Legends in the hope of making a quick buck.
When The Swapper arrived for the PC last year, it didn’t make quite the same waves as some of the games mentioned above but still managed to gather enough of a following for the mainstream to pay attention. The Swapper combined elements of Portal and Fez with a faithful homage to 80’s Sci-Fi and created a genuinely captivating and haunting experience. It offered just enough of an open path to keep players coming back for more and utilised puzzles that felt rewardingly difficult rather than cheap.
It all takes place on an abandoned and derelict space station and very little is offered in the way of backstory or help at the start. With the lights turned off long ago, a single flashlight provides your only method of guidance throughout most areas and the most handy tool at your disposal is a cloning device that enables up to 4 clones to be created at any one time. The player can switch control between the clones and, as the story unfolds and the difficulty level increases, you are encouraged to find new ways to use the clones to your advantage. The object is always to collect the coloured orbs that allow progression to the next stage and you bend time, gravity and space along the way until you have eventually lost count of which clone your character’s soul now inhabits.
The Swapper is being released under the PlayStation Cross-Play system and those who buy the game will be able to play the PS3, PS4 and Vita versions as they see fit, with full cross-format cloud save integration. The PS4 version looks and plays almost identically to it’s PC forefather plus some additional functionality added for the touchpad and some of the best use of controller vibration that I have ever experienced. Likewise, the Vita version offers as good a handheld port as you are ever likely to find and is bound to be useful for collecting those orbs left over after the main campaign has finished.
And you will have orbs left over as The Swapper cleverly doesn’t force exploration of every area but instead only requires players to collect a select few orbs from those available in order to achieve the next goal. This essentially means that it is almost impossible for non-completionists to become stuck on a specific puzzle as anybody who does can happily just walk away and choose a different puzzle instead. It’s a fantastic feature and one that other developers should maybe look up to as lesser games would have had me frustratingly searching YouTube or GameFAQs, thus detracting from the overall enjoyment of the game.
The Swapper isn’t without it’s problems, most notably that the game’s antagonists; ‘The Watchers’, cause messages to display on screen when the player walks past certain points and this can become a minor annoyance when you are just travelling between sections. It a very small problem though and if anything only serves to reiterate the importance of a narrative that gradually develops throughout the course of the campaign. In itself, the story has a very Kubrick and early James Cameron feel to it and the quality of the dialogue and voice over is far higher than most people might expect from an indie title.
Overall, The Swapper is a rare gem that shouldn’t be missed. A truly mature and intelligent video game with a sufficient level of polish to place it far above most of it’s rivals. Like Limbo, The Swapper proves that there is still room for innovation and great storytelling in the indie platform space and provides an experience that easily justifies it’s price tag.
The Swapper will be released on 6th August 2014 for PS4, PS3 and Vita with full cross-play support. Pre-orders are available now via the PlayStation Store.