One of the best things about the App Store is the diverse crop of games arriving each and every week. Although big-name studios will often bag the featured spots in Apple’s digital directory, it’s easy to stumble across a treasure trove of indie gems. Given the relative low cost of mobile development in comparison to home consoles, this opens the door for much smaller studios dotted around the globe. This extends to Taiwanese indie Sunhead Games and its second title, The Swords.
Since the emergence of smartphones and tablets, game designers have sought unique and intuitive ways to utilise the touchscreen functionality of these devices. No matter what new piece of technology comes along, developers have a penchant for working swordplay into the mix. That was certainly the case when motion controls came along, anyway.
As for mobile devices, just look at the hugely successful Infinity Blade. Without a physical controller in-hand, players made use of various touch gestures while tapping on-screen icons to trigger a variety of actions. Since that game’s release in 2010, however, the same gameplay model has been iterated upon hundreds of times. In fact, just reading a name like The Swords, I had already conjured up an image of what this game might be without tapping the store icon.
Thankfully, The Swords defies those expectations. Although far from being perfect, it’s markedly different from the swarm of mobile games which are currently trending. There’s an oriental motif that runs throughout, inspired by the ancient arts of calligraphy and ink painting. Not only does this create a unique visual style, it also lends itself to The Swords’ interesting approach to gameplay.
There’s even a bit of narrative tucked away, giving some much-needed context for what’s happening on-screen. Under the tutelage of a revered sword master, you’re trained in the use of the game’s eponymous blades, each of which has its own subtle nuances.
The first swords, for example, requires players to swipe at the screen in an attempt to redraw the displayed symbols. Meanwhile, one of the later blades will see you swatting arrows as they dart across the canvas, their trajectories charted in crimson ink.
What it all boils down to is a series of puzzles, some more arcade-like in fashion than others. Tutorials are purposefully stripped away, forcing players to pick-up on the differences between each sword, one or two being slightly more complex than the others.
Back-to-back, the game’s short series of trials will clock in at just over an hour – maybe more depending on skill and reflexes. That honestly doesn’t sound like a lot though, with three difficulty settings to attempt, the $3 price tag becomes that bit easier to justify.
No matter how much time you get out of it The Swords never seems to dull, even when attempting the same trials over and over. Where most mobile games obsess over point-scoring and competition, this feels much more calming and personal even in its more hectic moments.