The only thing better than overwhelming cuteness is the unrelenting lust for gore. Swarm is a fitting example of the feeling one might experience upon seeing a new born puppy slowly bumble its way around a carpet floor – on the one hand you want to pet it silly, cuddle it endlessly and bathe it in never-ending love; but even then the mean-spirited urge to simply kick it in its flabby little face is just as strong. Hothead Games’ latest downloadable title Swarm certainly balances this somewhat sadistic notion with great aplomb, all whilst wrapped-up in a delightfully flawed puzzle-platformer.
The aim of Swarm is to help navigate a unified group of up to fifty Swarmites through treacherous terrain, bypass the various deadly obstacles that obstruct their path and try to maintain a score multiplier at the same time. It’s a typical side-scrolling platformer in practice, though the meticulous nature of each level means that careful and considered movement is key to getting ahead and amassing more points. Necessary skills are learned at an appropriate pace and their proper application is vital to getting your total score higher for each level. Though the game throws relatively steep challenges at you in places, it makes the most of clever checkpointing and keeping each section trimmed to a decent length.
Because each new level moves so fast, Swarm is the kind of experience that is easy to blast through in its entirety in a day or so. You’re required to meet a specific score quota for each level in order to access the next one, which can mean having to retread old ground a few times over and work out a system of repeated patterns so that the biggest chain possible comes more quickly. It certainly didn’t drive me away from the game – I was happy to re-do certain levels a few times if I needed to – but sometimes it just becomes tedious playing the same thing over and over again. Replaying previous levels and searching for collectibles is also required for unlocking boss fights with their own unique win conditions, although they’re not quite as spectacular in quality as they maybe could have been. Online leaderboards for each level are also featured if frenzied score-chasing is of interest to you.
Despite the platforming being fun enough in its own right, it’s the aesthetic of Swarm that really lends some much-needed appeal to the proceedings. The stock-sized blue Swarmites are a joyful gang of characters to behold as their expendability becomes the source of much joy, as their fate falls to the hands of rusty blades, electric machinery and sudden impalings at each fresh turn. It’s a harsh reality that is, by design, completely unavoidable: your Swarmites will die by the hundreds at a disturbing per-level-rate, but thankfully their deaths count towards keeping your score multiplier alive. Not only are their deaths not in vain, but they’re also pretty amusing to watch.
As is the style of the times, Swarm also implements physics in an interesting way. For instance, you can stack your load of Swarmites up on top of one another to create a precariously wobbling tower that will grant you higher ground and elevation over taller obstructions. Keeping them balanced can be annoyingly hard however: there were a lot of collectibles higher-up that I just ignored simply due to fear of losing my multiplier. There’s also a lot of neat stat-tracking that continuously posts up your awarded ‘Death Medals’, which tally the different amount of ways you’ve lost your bunches of Swarmites and just how many times it’s happened. If nothing else, Swarm is a game that both mistreats and respects the mass deaths of the pudgy alien species it is sworn to save. Even when it’s at its most curiously punishing, Swarm is dexterous enough to reward those who put the time into learning its methods and also satisfies with the type of cartoon violence that makes for a very endearing and well-made game on the whole.
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