“I AM THE ONLY ONE THAT BELIEVES IN THE OTHER DIMENSION. I CALL IT ‘SPACE’. ONE ‘MOVES’ THROUGH ‘SPACE’.
This is just one of the enigmatic and thought-provoking bits of writing in The Swapper. Curve Studios has brought the atmospheric 2D puzzle platformer to Wii U and it maintains its brilliance while adding some nice Wii U-specific features as well.
The Swapper opens with you crash-landing on an unknown planet and quickly encountering a unique tool – the titular Swapper – in the mysterious environment. You play as someone in a spacesuit – it isn’t clearly stated, but you appear to be a woman- and you can use this Swapper to make up to 4 extra copies of yourself. This game mechanic is as unique as the Swapper itself, leading to puzzles you likely hadn’t even thought about in a game before. Whenever you move, your copies move too and you can also shoot between bodies in range of you.
As well as being something that creates new gameplay avenues, the narrative of the game is serviced in a fascinating manner by the Swapper. The story focuses on the idea of identity – a mysterious race of aliens called the Watchers are behind the Swapper and the subsequent tragedies on the planet you find yourself on. How your soul switches bodies, how that affects people and the general idea of who you are is explored. The main set pieces are emotional and sometimes rather dark, as characters resort to extreme methods. When I got to the finale of the game, I found scenes that I won’t forget in a hurry (in a good way).
Something that really stood out to me was the amount of death you don’t know whether you should care about. As long as you are in a body that is safe, it doesn’t matter what happens to the others; the amount of times you see the body you were just inhabiting fall to its death as you move to another is actually quite disturbing. But are those bodies truly just empty, or is there some sense of death? This kind of philosophical question really makes The Swapper stand out from other games.
Swapping between bodies starts off with simple transport puzzles, but the difficulty curve naturally rises as lights that block certain actions (you can’t transport between bodies through a red light, for example) are introduced. Actually, it gets insanely tough in some of the final puzzles! You have to get past puzzles to gather Orbs, and these orbs are used to get open closed paths. Your maximum quota of you and 4 copies is stretched to the limit, and placement of bodies becomes crucial. You have to consider every movement, as all bodies move as one. In some cases a copy or two is taken away from you, forcing you to work with less at your disposal. The satisfaction of solving a large, complicated puzzle is there but the room-confined puzzles still maintain the cinematic nature of the game and its story.
Speaking of the cinematic feel, the look matches it. This game has quite a dark colour palette, and manages to create an Alien-esque vibe with the abandoned space locale. From the moment you land on the planet, you are intrigued but inherently unsure and the tension runs through the whole game. When you do encounter life you never know if you can trust it, thanks to the identity theme I have mentioned already.
Adding to the visual style is the fact that the art assets were all made out of clay and then converted into the digital space. This hand-made method is rarely obvious but the extra physicality of the visuals does add to sense of an alien world. The sound is also suitably haunting, with it often understated to push that Alien or Metroid-like feeling of isolation.
An addition to the Wii U version is a GamePad map – as is popular for most games on the console! – but it is useful in The Swapper. The alien station you wander through is sprawling yet condensed, and the map means you can spot Orbs you have missed and teleporters you can use to travel. The one glaring omission is a zoom function, though, as you only get a rather close view; sometimes this resulted in rather confusing bit of map navigation, especially when the angle of the room changed the map orientation!
Despite the clones that are made and the occasional character meetings, The Swapper does focus on your loneliness – both metaphorically and literally. For any game to create such a deep and engaging story off of its defining gameplay mechanic is fantastic, and creates a great cohesion of these two important gaming factions. Some of the story beats in The Swapper give you something to really think about, and you need to experience them. If you haven’t played this game and you own a Wii U, go and get it. Now, guys. I mean it.
Disclosures: The copy of “The Swapper″ for Wii U was supplied to us by Curve Studios for the purposes of the review.