Swarm – The PS3 Attitude Review
Swarm is the latest game from Canadian developer Hothead Games, and is available now on PSN. The team is also responsible for the Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness and DeathSpank games, all of which have been well received due to their outrageous humour, awesome presentation and fun gameplay; so can Swarm match their quality?
The overall goal of Swarm is to get Momma a new hat, which is eventually accomplished by defeating the final boss. We should probably mention here that Momma is a giant (and we mean GIANT) blue creature that produces millions of much smaller blue creatures called Swarmites. And it’s a good job she does produce so many, because they’re likely to die… a lot.
In each level, you start off by controlling a swarm of fifty Swarmites, and the aim is to simply get them from the beginning to the end, or, more accurately, to get at least one Swarmite to the end. As you traverse each level, a lot of your Swarmites will get killed by exploding crates, electrical fences, and many other deadly obstacles, but as long as just one Swarmite remains, you can still proceed.
If your final Swarmite dies before you get it to a respawn point (which reimburses you with a certain amount of Swarmites) or the end of the level, then you’ll be forced to play from the most recently activated checkpoint. Thankfully, Hothead has been fairly liberal with their allocation of checkpoints, so you normally won’t have to go too far back when all of your Swarmites die.
That being said, the game isn’t by any means easy. Although you make your way from the left side of each level to the right, and use the X button to jump, that’s pretty much where the similarities to most other 2.5D platformers ends. Part of the game’s relatively steep learning curve comes from the large amount of moves you’ll have to memorise in order to make it through each level.
For example, holding R2 will bunch your Swarmites together (useful for making it across narrow walkways), whereas L2 will spread them out (useful for picking up collectibles more quickly). So far so good, but things get more complicated when you add in boost, bash, and stack moves, all of which need to be used seamlessly to get a high score.
Indeed, high scores are an important part of the game, with a specific score needed in each level in order to progress to the next. To get a high score, it’s crucial to keep your combo going, and constantly increase the multiplier. This is achieved by collecting purple orbs scattered throughout the level, reaching checkpoints, and sacrificing Swarmites (yeah, the game actually encourages it!).
We haven’t even mentioned time bonuses (awarded for replaying a level in a fast time), collectible DNA (there are five in each level), or Death Medals (earned by reaching various milestones in each category of death e.g. a total of 4,000 electrocuted Swarmites etc.). At first, there’s a lot to remember, but once it all clicks, you’ll be shooting up the online leaderboards in no time.
Despite the amount of death happening on screen, Swarm has an undeniably charming presentation, due mainly to its cartoony art-style, which is similar to many previous Hothead games. There is also a decent variation of level environments, from the reds and oranges of a volcano, to the blues and greens of a swampy marchland.
The Swarmites’ blue blood splatters on the screen at times of particularly heavy massacre, and you can’t help but feel sorry for the little creatures when you see them running around helplessly after catching on fire. Happily, the Global Swarmite Death Total (currently standing at 45 million) serves as a reminder that you’re not the only Swarmite mass murderer on PSN.
Humour is a big part of the game, which is seen right from the main menu, which toys you with a ‘Do not press triangle’ message. When you inevitably do press triangle, the single Swarmite on the screen gets shot with an arrow, shocked by lightning, or killed in any number of other gruesome ways, before being replaced by another Swarmite – hours of fun.
Swarm’s sound effects are equally satisfying, from the weird noises made by the Swarmites themselves, to the blast of explosions and the crackle of electricity. The game doesn’t include much music (though what’s here is decent), but custom soundtracks are supported, which is always good to hear, and frankly should be included in all PSN games.
Swarm has clearly been lovingly crafted, and is admittedly great fun to play, but at $14.99/€12.99/£9.99 it’s unfortunately slightly too hard to thoroughly recommend. We were able to complete the game’s twelve levels (including two bosses) in less than three hours, which isn’t a huge amount of content if you’re the type of gamer who tends to only play through games once.
However, completionists and platformer fans will almost definitely find something to like here, as chasing high scores, collecting DNA, and earning Death Medals and PlayStation Trophies will potentially add hours of gameplay. If you ask us though, Swarm is worth getting just for the main menu… and we didn’t think we’d ever say that about a game.