System: PS Vita [reviewed], PS3, PS4, PC, Mac, Linux, Wii U
Genre: Puzzle platformer
Developer: Facepalm Games & Curve Studios
Publisher: Curve Digital
Price: $19.99 (cross-buy on PSN)
Release Date: August 5, 2014
The Swapper is a puzzle-platformer that just oozes atmosphere. Originally released for the PC last year, this Facepalm Games adventure received overwhelming praise from critics and fans alike. This week, the ever-prolific Curve Studios is set to introduce this indie hit to a whole new set of gamers via the Playstation Network.
Set deep in space on a seemingly abandoned space station, The Swapper places you in the role of a lone explorer who is trying to make sense of the situation. The feeling of isolation here is undeniable — you are just one person alone in a massive, eerie location. Shortly upon arrival, you gain access to a mysterious new weapon, dubbed the Swapper, that gives you the ability to create clones of yourself — up to four at once. At first it appears to be a neat little tool, but soon it’s clear that it may have some unexpectedly heady consequences.
Nonetheless, this weapon serves as the main gameplay dynamic. When you create a clone of yourself, it will follow your every move. If you go left, it goes left. If you go right, it goes right. If you jump, it will jump just as high as you. You can “shoot” these clones in any number of directions, allowing you to hit switches and other contraptions that you could otherwise not get to on your own. Soon you also obtain the ability to swap directly into a clone itself, gaining access to their physical form. The others that you create can be destroyed by either running them into your current form, stepping into a bright light, or letting them fall to their deaths.
As you begin to push deeper and deeper into the space station, the game begins to introduce a series of increasingly complex puzzles. Many rooms will contain different colored lights that will allow you to only perform one function at a time. Red lights block the swapping ability, blue lights prevent cloning, and purple lights stop both. In order to progress through the various areas of the space station, you need to collect orbs that are often impeded by both types of colors. It can take some tricky maneuvering with multiple clones to get to these hard-to-reach areas, sometimes even requiring perfect timing to get by. Things don’t get any easier when zero gravity comes into play either.
Many of the puzzles are incredibly clever, with some being total head-scratchers. While it would be easy to look online for solutions, it’s better to just do your own trial and error. Death — which is usually caused by simply falling too far down — is over in an instant, and the game’s generous checkpoints will spawn you immediately to the beginning of that puzzle. Experimentation is rewarded, and solving some of the more challenging puzzles on your own will provide a real sense of accomplishment.
There is a hint of Metroidvania to the game, as you are free to explore the space station as you see fit, as long you have right amount of orbs to open up certain areas. A bit of backtracking is required for some parts, but there are a liberal amount of teleports scattered throughout that makes it so you never have to go too far.
The Swapper is a fairly short adventure — it can be completed in just four hours depending on your puzzle-solving skills — but it is a memorable one. Much of this is due to its phenomenal use of atmosphere. The game’s remarkable visuals are based on art constructed using clay models and other everyday materials, and the lighting effects really enhance both the mood and overall aesthetics. The otherworldly score and its crackling sound effects add even more to the constant feeling of isolation.
I played The Swapper exclusively on the Playstation Vita, and I did not run into any glitches, bugs or other annoyances. The game’s puzzles, set in individual rooms, make this an ideal candidate for pickup-and-play gaming. There were multiple times where I would struggle with a puzzle, take a break by putting the Vita into standby mode, and then come back with a fresh new outlook without having to reboot the game.
For $19.99, you get cross-play and cross-save access for all three systems: PS4, PS3 and PS Vita. If you’re only wanting to play on one system, this price may be a little steep considering the short length of the game. There isn’t much in the way of replay value either, aside from obtaining trophies that are hidden in oft-obscure locations. Yet if you’re in the mood for a cerebral sci-fi puzzler that can truly leave a lasting impression, it’s hard to top The Swapper.
(A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review.)