Indie titles have endless, boundless freedom when it comes to creating a video game concept. It could be about unicorns that fly through space, destroying evil, and saving worlds, or about a cat walking through a city centre. While triple A productions can’t even begin to explore the same themes, and ideas independent studios can, sometimes the concept comes before the execution. Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery (now shortened greatly into S: SaS) walks a fine, fine line between holding its own as an indie title, while managing to promote itself as a ‘game’ at all.
The reason for this balancing act is because S: SaS takes elements from, seemingly, every other genre on the planet, and somehow manages to cobble them into a coherent, albeit confusing, mess that is equally beautiful as it is nonsensical. For the most part it functions as a side-scrolling adventure, that focuses on trying to break the fourth wall with a sledgehammer. But sometimes, it decides that this whole ‘gaming’ thing is just too mainstream, and overdone. So, it transitions into a musical, where the player can just enjoy the music.
Before talking about the beautiful soundtrack however, the plot, and gameplay, demands some sort of attention. You play as the Scythian, a young woman from a war-torn land far off somewhere, whose sole mission is to harness the power of the golden trigons, thus granting you power to perform “miracles”. As characters go, she’s kind of a baddass, capable of summoning sprites, communicating with spirits, fighting creatures twice her size, and adventuring. To support her in the woeful task she faces, is an array of similarly unexplained characters whom she meets along the way (that you’ll likely forget about).
Because it’s so out there in terms of design, and of structure, the game’s central mechanic is simply clicking. Tapping once, twice, and holding the mouse over an object you wish to investigate, is the absolute limit of the mechanics that involve the players direct input – outside of combat, but that’s a basic ‘block/attack’ at the right moment system – and makes the world just a little more flat as prompts float on the screen. It becomes a walking simulator then, as the side scrolling charm of every session wears thinner, and thinner the more you play.
However, this game is instantly redeemed in every possible way, by the soundtrack (by Jim Guthrie). Without a decent composer, even the best games can feel empty, or dull, as the encounters, and areas become a drag. This is the exact opposite in S: SaS, because the music is what makes the experience worthwhile. A pleasant walk through a beautifully detailed, hand-drawn pixel art forest, suddenly becomes this spiritual jaunt, that you don’t want to leave behind. Each track on the album is balanced perfectly, especially when applied with context.
Even if you play S: SaS initially for the game itself, by the end you’ll be staying for the soundtrack for sure. It’s by no means a terrible game, but if anything it’s hardly a video game at all, but, whatever it is, it’s a little fun.
Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP – 70/100
Written by Matt Dawson