It seems like ages ago that I got my first look at Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP back at GDC '10. We later checked in with the guys from Superbrothers at E3, where we discovered the shift to the iPad. An iPhone version is still in the works, but it's not expected to appear for another month yet. Now, as mentioned in our preview earlier this week, a big part of your enjoyment of Sword & Sworcery will come from discovering things on your own, taking your time, and enjoying how well the pixel art melds with the music and vice versa.

Since so much of the game is the actual experience, I'm going to try something new and write this review in layers starting with high level commentary that spoils basically nothing straight on down to actually discussing the themes of the game and spoiling everything. I'll leave it up to you to decide when to stop reading, just keep in mind if you want the most out of the game you should go in to it knowing little more about it other than it's a cool looking adventure game with great music. In fact, if you're holding out for the game on your iPhone, I'd try to just avoid all the iPad commentary entirely, as difficult as that likely will be for the next month.

Anyway, on with the show.

Sword & Sworcery is a point and click adventure game with art by Craig D. Adams and music by Jim Guthrie. Craig and Jim have been working together for years now, as evident by more than a few videos on Vimeo by the duo, and Jim has an impressive catalog of music on iTunes which is also worth checking out. After getting mixed up with Capybara Games, Sword & Sworcery is the first time they've worked together on something interactive. The game was built from the ground up with both the music designed for the game as well as the game designed for the music, making it one of the most unique gaming experiences I think I've had on my iPad.

As mentioned in the preview, controlling the game is a breeze. Like most point and click games on iOS devices, you just double tap where you'd like to go and your character automatically finds its path to that location. Alternatively, you can tap and hold to constantly move in whatever direction you'd like. Completing the adventure requires the use of two distinct modes in the game. Tapping into "sworcery" mode involves holding the iPad in a horizontal orientation and holding your finger on your character until she begins to "sing the song of sworcery." At this point, you're able to interact with the game world to solve the various puzzles you'll come across.

The second game mode, "sword," requires rotating the iPad 90 degrees into portrait orientation. Your character then draws her sword, and buttons both for blocking and attacking appear. There are parts in the game that require you to simply draw your sword and hold it to the heavens and parts which are fairly intense battle sequences. These fights are reminiscent of Punch-Out!! and are largely based on figuring out what pattern of blocking and attacking you need to use, as well as timing each of those movements.

During GDC this year there was some discussion about some people not liking that the game forces you to turn your iPad to switch between these two modes as it feels a bit clunky on a device as large as the iPad. To some extent, I agree, but at the same time I really like the distinct and deliberate shift in "modes" that comes from the physical rotation of the device. I do have a feeling this will be a lot better on the iPhone version of the game, as rotating your phone seems much more similar to drawing a sword as opposed to rotating the iPad, which feels much closer to driving a bus.

If you want to stop reading now to avoid spoilers, I'll leave you with this- Sword & Sworcery is a fantastic adventure game. I totally recommend checking it out, if for no reason other than to experience how well great pixel art and amazing music can meld together to create something really cool and at times, entirely unexpected.

Stage 1 Spoiler Alert - Plot Discussion

The plot of Sword & Sworcery follows the adventures of your mysterious avatar, The Scythian, who somehow finds herself far away from "the war-ravaged steppes of Scythia." You soon meet the mountain folf of the Caucasus: Dogfella, Girl, and Logfella serve as the supporting cast of characters for your adventure. Each are fairly mysterious, which leaves you constantly wondering what they're up to, why they're just hanging around, and the greater role that they may or may not serve in your quests.

In your first encounter with Logfella, he mentions hearing of the "woeful errand" you're on, which sets the stage for how the rest of the story is told. As the player, you're playing somewhat of a god of sorts and the story has to be pieced together in your own mind as you read which characters in the game are thinking what or saying to themselves. It's a neat way to present an adventure game, and the layer of abstraction between the player and the characters really seems to shift the focus of the game to discovering the game's world than developing characters. This is further enhanced by the art style, which basically begs you to look around and really take in every location you find yourself in, while listening to the perfectly paired soundtrack.

The introductory quest in the game reveals the over-arching quest which will drive the rest of the game: Acquiring and destroying the "burdensome book of sinister sworcery known as the Megatome", all while dealing with the "deathless spectre" which was awakened when you removed the Megatome from its resting place.

Stage 2 Spoiler Alert - Further Plot Discussion

As you deliver the Megatome back to Logfella's cabin, a storm starts brewin', symbolizing just how evil the Megatome actually is, and you even start getting some hints on the effect the Megatome is having on the Scythian. The upshot is: having the Megatome allows you to read the thoughts of the characters in the game, further unlocking additional tidbits of information about Logfella, Dogfella, and Girl. The downside is that destroying the Megatome is fairly involved, and requires both unleashing the Sylvan Sprites and collecting the three pieces of the Gold Trigon.

To free the Sylvan Sprites, you'll need to wander around the game looking for little patches of bubbling light. Summoning them from their slumber involves singing the previously mentioned song of sworcery, then solving environmental puzzles. These puzzles are musical in nature, and often have to do with figuring out which objects in the game world are interactive, then forming a musical scale in the proper order by tapping them. It's really awesome how this all goes together with the overall musical nature of the game as well, with a favorite puzzle of mine involving strumming waterfalls as you correctly order notes played on a harp. Keep in mind that if you don't have a musical background, some of these puzzles will likely be difficult, potentially frustrating, and might just come down to brute-forcing the solutions.

Waking all the Sylvan Sprites reveals a piece of the Gold Trigon, and in order to collect it, you'll need to battle it first. These battles are crazy, filled with lightning, cool music, and multiple phases that require precise sword swinging and dodging. Acquiring the first piece is simple enough, but the second and third can only be gathered in specific real-world times under a full and new moon.

There are two ways to avoid this restriction. The first is in-game and requires some exploration to find. Alternatively, you can just cheat and roll the clock in your device forward to the next full or new moon. This real-world tie in and constant focus on the moon adds an additional layer of depth to the game, but more than anything else, seems to serve as a bit of a forced break from playing. My initial play-through was, as the game recommends, done while I took breaks between quests and waited for the moon cycles. Not only did this avoid the somewhat inevitable feeling or repetition you get with adventure games from so much back-tracking, but it was also really neat to say, "Oh hey, full moon tonight, I wonder what's going to happen in Sword & Sworcery." I realize not everyone is as patient as I am, but the whole experience, when played as the developers intended, is really rad.

Stage 3 Spoiler Alert - Read After You Beat The Game, or Now If Impatient

Sword & Sworcery is an incredibly unique composition that almost makes you want to analyze it as if it were a movie rather than a video game, which not too many iOS games have ever made me do. Throughout the game, you're constantly delving into themes of discovery, sacrifice, and playing with the crossover between dreams and reality.

The beginning of the game drops several hints that the Scythian's quests to destroy the Megatome will make her a martyr, so it isn't much of a surprise when the inevitable occurs after an insanely amazing ending sequence (which I don't think I'll ever forget). However, it's very strange how this plays out. For me, what I questioned most while playing Sword & Sworcery was the motivation behind why the Scythian was doing what she was doing, who Logfella and Girl are, and other natural character-driven enquiries.

As mentioned previously, you play the role of a silent god of sorts who just so happens to be able to control the Scythian, and the only depth you're able to get out of these characters is what the game gives you. Since everything is meant to be tweeted, all of the thoughts and dialog are less than 140 characters. This, combined with the amazing art style of the environments causes you to focus more on the game world as a whole rather than getting invested in any particular character, even the Scythian which more or less serves as your avatar.

Initially it seems like the game panders to this as well, often seizing control of the camera to pan around the lush forests and reflective ponds. The shift in the latter half of the game to focus on the Scythian's sacrifice doesn't feel as powerful as it should because you're lacking a solid connection with the character. You never really get much of an understanding of why she's doing what she's doing other than because the Megatome is bad, and it's your duty to destroy it.

Stepping back a bit, it's incredible that Superbrothers have created something that has me thinking about it for so long after playing it. iOS games are notoriously disposable time wasters, and I can't think of many that I've beaten then actually sat around and discussed with friends on a thematic level. Hell, I can't think of many iOS games where you can even do that. That alone, stripping out and disregarding everything else that makes Sword & Sworcery so great is an accomplishment in itself.

If you've got an iPad, you've made it this far and your review and your interest in this game is even mildly piqued, you need to download Sword & Sworcery. It's by far one of the most unique games I've played on my iPad, and I really hope the game does well enough that the developers are able to turn it into a franchise. There is just so much more they could easily explore in the Sworcery universe, and I can't wait to delve further into it.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • E_Domina

    this looks pretty goddamn epic.

  • http://twitter.com/iTouchAppReview iTouchAppReviewers

    I just can't read it....must...wait..for iPhone version :o lol i think I can wait..````

  • Andy C83

    Must.. not.. read. For another month!!

    GAAAHH111@#!!

    *THUD*

  • john tax

    Isn't it the most commented article without reading out there ?

    (my english ain"t perfect, but you get what i meant, ain't you ?

    I WANNA READ NOW, and not wait...

  • Hollywood

    Next month can't come sooner dammit! Now if only i can save the exact 5$ i have for it. I honestly can't read this article i want it so bad.

  • freedog

    Just something about this game that smells of awesomeness

  • Rasterico

    Out in Europe now!

  • Xboxstig

    up to 36 in 15 minutes on app store. awesome

  • Brian

    How much gameplay time is there? Sorry if it was mentioned, but I am spoiler averse.

  • Indie mess

    I feel like an idiot, how to i start the game?
    Just this record spinning. I dont know what to do. I have been stoping the record and starting it and nothing happens

    • aurorajorealis

      Tap the square button with a triangle on it, bottum right (the "arm" of the record player)

    • aurorajorealis

      Tap the square button with a triangle on it, bottum right (the "arm" of the record player)

    • bleak

      Turn it xD

  • http://slippydouglas.com/ Slippy Douglas

    I think this game may actually push additional sales of iPads (as if such a thing were actually measurable).

  • Anonymous

    Kjvlkjsfhvlkjsjdbckjsbkdjscsdcsdcnlsmdncskdcksjdhcsdkjchsdkjchsd

    42 minutes. !!!!!

    It amazes me how I can find patience for almost a year, but now it's like waiting for Christmas morning and I'm 5.

    Bah!!!!

  • Marcoamaro

    Almost here...!

  • http://www.twitter.com/BeeMickSee Brandon McCartin

    I can confirm that the game is indeed excellent.

  • aurorajorealis
  • Eleven

    iPhone version should have been first...

    • Anonymous

      I honestly have a hard time seeing this work on the smaller screen, but if it can be pulled off, these guys will do it.

  • Relytgninroht

    Awww man! I was looking forward to this... Wish they released the iPhone version first, or simultaneously with the ipad version. Dang... Now I have to another month. Hopefully the iPhone versions better ;P

    • Anonymous

      Why does it have to be better?

    • Joeye1

      The developers said it looks better on the iPhone.

  • Relytgninroht

    Awww man! I was looking forward to this... Wish they released the iPhone version first, or simultaneously with the ipad version. Dang... Now I have to another month. Hopefully the iPhone versions better ;P

  • Gagsrage

    Where's my fucking comment?

    God forbid someone should submit remarks that depart from the knob gobbling oral service your site provides. Square must have purchased some upcoming ad space and I made the mistake of making a disparaging remark about FF III. Don't step on the payola, people.

    Your tin can site sucks and so does your staff.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_BE2VQXNL7GAV2RMD2XK6Z2HESI Janet Trevor

    Wow, reminds me of the old school Prince of Persia game back when I had windows 95... or was that Windows 3.1? Okay.. I actually revealed how old my computer is... back to deciding which graphic design courses I should take.. zzz

    • http://twitter.com/VULTR3 Mike

      I assure you, it's nothing like the classic Prince of Persia. That game was fun and really challenging right off the cuff. This one is more like a guided story, it seems.

  • Tennis elbow

    Do i have to spin that damn record every time i start the game to make the play button appear? Im so tired from spinning that thing. Last night i just gave up and turned the iPad off.

    • Anonymous

      I hope you're joking.

      • Indie mess

        No Mr Smartypants im not. It says "Rotate?" so i freaking rotate. Nothing happens....

      • Mrsmartiepants

        Point and laugh everybody.

      • Anonymous

        You must be kidding me.

    • Joeye1

      You rotate your iPad to play.

    • bleak

      You don't have to spin it. TURN THE IPAD

  • Jamie Oliver

    It looks super sweet & sounds great. But i need the iPhone Version!

  • Moocow

    The visual style reminds me of the game Out of this World. The gameplay, however, seems too much... I dunno. Too much explanation and help given away... there shouldn't be any text to read and it would be better IMHO, let the player figure it out along the way.

  • http://twitter.com/VULTR3 Mike

    I was really looking forward to this game. I played through the first section and have mixed feelings... I really want to like the experience, but it feels too guided, like I am on a set path with no choices, and the narrating isn't helping at all to put me deeper in the story.

    But, I guess it's only fair to wait until I finish the game to make up my mind haha

  • Anonymous

    First massive fail, I have to play with the headphone socket on top right. Not all of us enjoy being plugged into our devices at home. For starters the mrs considers it extremely rude. So I am now playing with my palm covering the speaker or my finger adjusting the volume constantly... /sigh

    I know I know, why wouldn't I play a game with such attention to detail in the audio with headphones, well, because I might just want to thats why.

    I've been playing for about 30ish minutes and so far its just... meh. It looks absolutely charming, sounds great, but the gameplay is very so so. I don't really feel like I'm solving or achieving anything. Kinda reminds of Dead Space: Ignition on XBL in that regard. I'm really hoping that feeling changes! because honestly the only good thing about DS:I was the DS2 unlocks it gave on completion.

    Wish I'd waited for the reviews. I deliberately avoided them to avoid spoilers.

    • Mrsmartiepants

      I'm sure it's an entirely different experience trying to play this without seeming rude. You really need to just play it alone, by yourself, in it's full glory with the sound up.

      I would just play something else when you're around the wife.

    • https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawkVL9xGe7qv76I-WXEDiHgJkMCLgmkqJYo Marco Mustapic

      I have the exact same feeling. The game is not very good as a game. The story is almost non existant. It seems the devs did that on purpose, but the end result isn't very good. Puzzles are so so, and the combat is ok. The exploration is pretty bland, too much backtracking, and not much to do. From the screenshots and reviews it seems there are lots of things you can do while in the game, but that is not the case, your interaction with the world is very limited.

      As maniacfive said, it looks good, it sounds good. But there's not much in there.

      • bleak

        Non-existent? Lemme spell it out: You are the Scythian who all you know (mystery) is on a woeful errand and you are a god of sorts who guides the Scythian on what to do. All the while the Archetype is a mysterious man that almost narrates or comments on what's going on. You need to retrieve the megatome on top of the mountain Mingi-Taw alive. That's the first 15 minute session. I can tell you the rest too.

        -Bleak

    • TKO

      I feel like all I am doing is walking around and doing what it is telling to do. I went to the dream land to get the key and I grabbed it and left. There wasn't even a puzzle to solve. It was just something it told me to do. When ever I had to find those fairy things I have no idea what I did to free them. All I did was randomly touch spots on the screen. I give up. I don't see myself playing it any longer.

      • bleak

        There's a hidden door that the key leads to where you can change moon phases.

    • bleak

      You obviously don't get what the game play is going for. It's a point and click adventure with action added to the mix. The charming characters and the way they word things makes for a really unique fun experience. Now I played this on the I-phone so it might be different. I felt the gameplay was fluid not so so.

      -Bleak

  • Bigtrouble77

    The closest thing I've played to this is the old Lucasfilm graphic adventure, Loom. I'm actually impressed by what they've accomplished over the past year... this game is special.

    • http://twitter.com/VULTR3 Mike

      Special is a funny way to describe something, haha

  • HeresTheDeal

    smoke weed before playing this game.

  • Guest

    world of goo can be discussed on a thematic level

  • Fred Fnord

    Thanks for the spoiler warning. I think I'll probably grab it, based on the first part of your review. I was bearing in mind how annoyed I would have been to have someone explain the plot and premise behind, say, 'Another World' (you're probably not old enough to remember it, but it was awesome.). Hope this lives up to that kind of expectation.

  • Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

    Take mushrooms, then play this. It changed my view of life completely.

    • bleak

      Or just eat the mushrooms in game lol

  • Felixen21

    This game seems awesome. I'm stuck already. How dó you get past the first boss thing with the skull?

    • Felixen21

      Nevermind. Figured it out :-)

      • MadHacker

        Um so tell me what it was because I'm there dude.

      • Felixen21

        Well. I don't know if you figured it out yet? Anyway, just get out of there :-)

      • MadHacker

        Thanks, yeah I did figure out running away was the right thing to do. Too funny!

  • http://mordicai.livejournal.com Mordicai

    So excellent that I'm trawling around the internet reading reviews just basking in the afterglow. Half Zelda, half Shadow the Colossus, half Twin Peaks. 150% of awesome.

    • bleak

      It's amazing

  • Anonymous

    Definitely my kind of game, and I am one OLD geek. Unfortunately, my ^%#@#!!! iPad2 won't be here for another two weeks. I am so over the waiting... I WANNA PLAY NOW!

  • Dolgann

    Now if someone could just please make a version of Another World and Flash back *sigh*

Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP Reviewed by Eli Hodapp on . Rating: 5