The Swapper has a unique aesthetic. The player character, the backgrounds, the levels, are all made from clay and other every day materials. That’s all the art assets and it gives the game a pretty interesting look that helps deliver The Swapper’s dark, eerie world perfectly.
Set on what seems to be an asteroid mining facility in deep space, you’re tasked with finding your way around and solving puzzles to advance the storyline. It’s a puzzler/platformer with an interesting mechanic, but there’s more here than just that. Specifically, the storyline is steeped in intrigue and aims for a dark mystery exploring the nature of the mechanic.[drop]You see, the swapper is a device that creates clones and allows you to switch your control to these clones at will. You can have four clones (plus your starting body) running around at the same time – and they will, as they mirror your movement exactly even when you aren’t specifically controlling that clone. So as you walk to the left, all the other living clones will move to the left too. When you jump, they jump.
Naturally, this mechanic provides room for some mind-crushing puzzles. As with all puzzle games, it starts off with a gentle difficulty curve that increases in complexity until it reaches that point. You know the one, it’s the point where you think you know a puzzle, try to solve it and then realise that you were way off and your “solution” didn’t really make much sense. Then you spend 15 minutes trying various solutions, all of which arrive at the same point – a distressed “how do I get past this!?”
So The Swapper is very much a game that you will have to take breaks from to tackle with a fresh mind later. Thankfully, you’re rarely presented with just one puzzle to solve. A lot of the game’s progression comes from collecting Trigon Orbs so you can access terminals that will advance the storyline and/or open doors. Each terminal naturally requires a certain amount of these orbs before it can be accessed, so you’ll be spending most of your time hunting them down around the facility.
It’s a basic way of feeding you puzzles but the depth of The Swapper lies in its puzzles and overarching storyline. The puzzles themselves are anything but simple, with each clone moving when you do and buttons to press, getting the right clones in the right place at the right time will require some mental acrobatics.
My mind has tripped upon realising that the clone I’m controlling myself isn’t in the right place and now I can’t move because everyone else will be out of place. Combine this with blue and red lights that stop you spawning clones inside them and block your swapper’s ray (via which you transfer your control to another clone), respectively, and you’ve got the possibility of some truly difficult conundrums.
Sure, you are always collecting some stuff to continue to the next area, but the puzzles are challenging and the storyline hints at a deep looker at the psychological effects a device like the swapper could cause, as well as exploring the perhaps wilful ignorance of its users as to its implications.
Early on you’ll meet a character who is clearly mentally disturbed and, without spoiling anything, what happens next is quite unexpected. It presents a very mysterious storyline exploring themes that are not touched upon in games often, and you want to keep playing even though the gameplay is essentially just collecting things via solving puzzles, like a claymation crystal maze.[drop2]Whilst playing, you will notice the disregard for the clones you routinely use and dispose of. You’ll make them in the air and swap into them to climb to out of reach places without any thought for the clones that drop to the ground to die in a slightly unsettling ragdoll state.
Even when you reabsorb a clone by coming into contact with it it’s not completely gone – each one has its own swapper and on re-absorption the gun will just drop to the ground with a clattering noise, a small hint at the slightly uncomfortable undercurrents to the swapper device.
It is difficult to speak too much about the Swapper without spoiling things and the storyline is possibly my favourite aspect of the game, so this week’s Indie Focus is going to be a little shorter than usual. The game is very pretty with its clay assets, the puzzles are truly stumping at times and the storyline explores themes that aren’t often encountered in games. It’s everything you need from an indie game and well worth the price of entry.