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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Review: Swarm (PSN)

It’s easy to see why Swarm might be a popular idea. It’s the kind of gooey cute that you’d expect to see on a children’s cartoon show. It also has a strong sense of humour – the game makes a big deal out of killing the little blue swarmite critters you’ll be controlling, and loads up a global tally on the main menu screen when you start playing.

Marching on a path to death

And indeed, the game is proving to be popular – that tally ticks on at a very pleasant rate (well, not so pleasant for the swarmites doing the dying, you’d assume), possibly because the real appeal behind this game is getting your name up on the leaderboard. To do that, you’re going to need to experiment. When you experiment, you make mistakes. When you make mistakes, swarmites die.

The game itself playing as a side-scrolling 3D platformer. You’ll move from point A to point B across a reasonably wide platform. Along the way are obstacles that mean instant death for any swarmite caught in the trap. You start with 50 of the little critters. Hitting 0 means you’ll need to restart from the previous checkpoint.

All 50 swarmites are controlled simultaneously. Point in one direction, and all the creatures will move in that direction. Press the jump button, and like a wave, they will all play follow-the-leader. It’s possible to order the swarmites to spread out or crunch in to cover a large space or navigate thin platforms as they arise.

That little "X3" at the top is what's critical to a good score

Largely, the platforming is puzzle-based. There are a lot of treasures that are just out of reach, and figuring out how to get those without sending the swarmites on a lemming-like leap into a chasm will at times have you scratching your head.

Getting a high score relies on getting those treasures, but also killing swarmites. As you gain points, the score multiplier will also increase. As it does, a timer starts ticking down. If you don’t collect a new treasure or have a swarmite die by the time that timer hits zero, the score multiplier will reset. So, in those times where there are no treasures to be found, some little critters need to be sacrificed. It’s an effective little ploy in getting people to move forward through the levels at a rapid pace, and will greatly appeal to those that enjoy speed runs.

And within that context, the game has quite a lot of replay value. The raw content itself is a little on the thin side, but when you’re going to be happy to replay levels over and over again to try and better your top scores, it’s not going to matter so much.

Despite having so much going for it, however, I struggled to get into this game. Perhaps it’s just not my kind of humour and style of game, but the overall experience just fell flat for me. For something that's meant to be quite fast paced, I didn't enjoy the need to release a button to perform a dash. I didn't appreciate how small the swarmites were on my (admittedly small) TV, which made it hard to see what was going on from time to time. I didn't appreciate the need to get a high score just to unlock the next level - high scores should be incentive to come back and replay a level, not get through it for the first time.

It’s easy to see that people might enjoy this, but it’s worth nothing that others might find it just a touch too alien for its own good.


Review: Swarm (PSN)
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