Review: The Swords16 Jul 2016 1
Review: The Swords
Released 07 Jul 2016
In August of last year I flew out to China to begin teaching English for six months. In the first week of our orientation, we were taken to one of the local parks to get firsthand experience of the culture and people. If you’ve ever been to your local tourist hotspots you’ll most likely see artists and street performers vying for your loose change.
I remember there was a local artist showcasing his skills in calligraphy – the art of decorative handwriting. I stood there for an hour, mesmerized by his talents, with nothing but a brush, water and the floor below him. The characters that make up the Chinese language is an art form in itself, but this was something else.
The Swords, which comes to us from Taiwan-based developer Sunhead Games, introduces us to the mechanics of their game with a facsimile of calligraphy through usage of broad swipes across traditional Chinese characters. It’s an elegant and novel approach to a game that bases its narrative on ancient martial arts, and with these two practices so heavily intertwined in the culture of ancient China, it’s a nice touch that also shows just how dull the English language is to look at.
On the surface it feels a bit like Cut The Rope (or any number of clones based off of that series) but for adults, with the general premise on swiping away a varying degree of arrows that come in different forms and attack in different ways. Sunhead Games does a good job of keeping things interesting, giving a particular mechanic a brief introduction, taking the player through 5 or 6 different levels based on that mechanic before moving onto the next one. These mechanics include a flood of arrows that smother the screen, solitary arrows that spiral towards a center point you need to defend, and floating leafs that slowly float down, but are small and difficult to hit. It keeps the game moving at a fast pace as you constantly need to re-valuate your plan of attack, as frantically swiping you fingers across the screen will not always work.
The watercolour visuals are gorgeous - from the characters in the narrative sequences, to the brushstrokes that fly across the screen when you swipe your finger, it truly is something special to look at. The gameplay is an abstract display of what is driven through the narrative, so you have to stretch your mind a bit, but it works in the games favour – adding an artistic flair to the overall sleek presentation.
There are three levels of difficulty, and anyone who finishes the game on advanced will most likely want to try their hand at the master setting -if only because of how short the experience is. The swings in difficulty can be a bit erratic: where one level can be completed on first go with clean execution, and the next sees you frantically swiping at the screen on your 20th attempt. It’s the first game since International Track and Field that caused my arm to seize up in cramp at points.
Swords is not afraid to throw you off as well. While each mechanic follows a particular rule, and arrows come across the screen in a certain way (sometimes after several failed attempts) the arrows will come from a different direction. It’s a small touch that forces you to stay alert.
Having played on both an iPad Mini and my HTC phone, the iPad is the better way to go due to the larger surface area to play with. On the phone the biggest enemy you will face is your own hands, as they constantly block the view of the ongoing barrage of arrows that are thrown at you. Having that extra room to work with did make a significant difference in just seeing what direction arrows were coming from – and this is a game where split seconds make all the difference.
The controls are solid and responsive, with minimal delay between your fingers flying across the screen and the representative brush stroke that accompanies it. It feels particularly satisfying holding your finger down on the screen and watching the trail of the brush stroke follow you.
There are two minor gripes to be found: one is the inability to skip cut scenes. Though I understand developers want gamers to see and appreciate the work that goes into all aspects of a game (and I do), mobile gamers typically want something they can pick up and play immediately. The other issue is being unable to go back and play previous levels. For the similarities it has next to the likes of Fruit Ninja and co, the lack of a basic level select is surprising as it’s a core feature in pretty much all games of this nature.
Overall, The Swords is a sharply focused and concise package, one that is over far too quickly. In some ways, the narrative used feels shoehorned to give the game some kind of substance behind the gameplay. When, potentially, the game could be opened up to explore a plethora of different mechanics both action and puzzled based, as currently it feels locked within its setting. With that said, the game's identity is rooted in its artistic presentation, and what is here is very good. Though there is critique here for how short the experience is, it currently costs less than a latte from Starbucks (perspective, people!) and offers a different approach to other titles in it's class. Overall a worthy investment - just don’t try and play it walking down the street.