Reviews

Swarm – Review

 

Xbox Live Arcade Title
Price: 1200MSP
Release Date: Out Now!
Developer: Hothead Games
Publisher: UTV Ignition

Singleplayer: Yes
Co-op: No
Multiplayer: No

In most games getting killed is a bad thing, often setting you back a level or penalizing you in some way, but in Swarm killing your little group of squishy blue Swarmites – or Lemmings, if you prefer – is actively encouraged. How very odd.

Your goal is to herd your swarm of 50 Swarmites across each level, and these little blue guys only have one goal in life: to score big points for the Big Momma so they can reach the next level, and they sure as hell aren’t afraid of making the ultimate sacrifice to do so. Poor little sods.

You control all 50 of these guys at the same time using the analogue stick and a few buttons. You can group them together, spread them out, form towers of them to help you progress, and make them all jump as a group. A few other things are added such as boosts and dash attacks to help get through obstacles. It’s easy enough to get the hang of, but the swarm feels imprecise to control and sluggish to react leading to many unfair deaths in a game that’s already filled to the brim with irritating, annoying deaths.

You see each level has a set amount of points to score before you’re allowed onto the next, and scoring points requires you to collect DNA which also bumps up the score multiplier. If you don’t get another piece of DNA before the multiplier runs down then your sub-total is added to the main score and you have to start the multiplier all over again.
Now, the real trick is that sacrificing your little Swarmites also adds to your multiplier and score making for a risk vs reward mechanic.

The early levels are Swarm at it’s best. Each level is filled with death-dealing objects to overcome, and most can be passed with skill and deft fingers, but there are a few unfair moments where it’s physically impossible to avoid traps due to a mixture of darkness, sluggish controls and odd level design. These moments are frustrating, especially when combined with a switch that requires a good amount of Swarmites to activate so you can claim bonus points. Thankfully in the early levels missing such a switch won’t cost you the level, but later in the game they often result in losing the level.

Levels often become a trial and error affair with you being forced to play them multiple times to progress thanks to many unfair deaths. Scores to advance levels become so high that missing a switch can often cost you the game, and with no idea whether a switch is coming up sacrificing your Swarmites becomes a guessing game.

It’s irritating to lose Swarmites in almost unavoidable circumstances such as falling boulders, bear-traps hidden in the dark, or even just due to the amount of them, and even more frustrating when it costs you the entire level.

Still, there’s a sadistic pleasure to be had in watching your little Swarmites charge to their demise. The amount of different ways for them to meet their squishy blue creator is impressive, from impaling, burning, falling, poisoning, electrocution, decapitation and plenty more. Even funnier, and slight disturbing, is watching them crawl around with no legs. Jeez, we really are a violent bunch, aren’t we?

It’s also worth to note that for 1200MSP you’re only getting ten levels, and they can be beaten fairly quickly.

Annoyances aside, there is an addictive quality to playing Swarm. Sure, passing most of the later levels often feels more like blind luck as you stumbled through the level, but keeping a high multiplier going takes a good bit of skill, regardless of daft obstacles.  It’s a game for this with an iron patience, but for anyone who doesn’t like a stiff challenge this may just have you throwing your controller through the window.

The Good:
+ Pressing Y on the main menu screen and watching a Swarmite die in some terrible way.
+ It’s challenging!
+ Nailing a level to get a sick score!

The Bad:
– It often goes from being challenging to downright unfair.
– Unavoidable deaths.
– Sharp difficulty spikes.

The Scores:

Graphics: 7.5
Colorful blue Swarmites meet dark and foreboding world. Shame it all begins to look the same quite quickly.

Sound: 7
It does its job, but never stands out.

Story: 5
Momma alien lands on planet and little blue guys must collect DNA.

Gameplay: 7.5
Fun, and incredibly frustrating at points. Whether you enjoy this game largely depends on how patient you are, and how short your temper is.

Lifespan: 6.5
For 1200MSP you get ten levels which can be completed in around four hours.

Overall: 7
Judging Swarm is tough. When it gets it right this is a mad platformer that rewards risk and has some great concepts, but it falls into the realms of unfair and frustrating deaths too often for its own good.

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