Superbrothers Sword & Sworcery EP
Developed By: Capybara Games
Published By: Capybara Games
Category: Adventure, Action
Release Date: 11.30.18
The indie smash hit of 2011 finally makes its way to the Nintendo Switch! Superbrothers Sword & Sworcery EP has been around for a few years on mobile, iOS, and PC platforms, and publisher Capybara has made the wise decision to port it to a device that combines the best aspects of consoles with mobile convenience. I’ve wanted to play it for a while now, based mostly on the reputation of its soundtrack; although I didn’t mind taking in all the gorgeous visuals either. The flow of the game can be a little slow, but I suspect that’s on purpose to get players to appreciate the atmosphere a little better. Let’s begin.
Deep In The Caucasus Mountains, The Scythian Arrives
Players take the role of the mysterious Scythian, on a “woeful errand” that starts with collecting a book of sworcery called the Megatome. After making her way to the spellbook’s resting place, an ancient evil called the Golgothic Mass is released, and begins hunting the Scythian on her journey. Three triangular relics, called Trigons, must be collected to form the Trigon Trifecta in order to banish the Golgothic Mass once and for all. The Scythian’s quest takes her through dark woods, placid lakes, and the world of dreams where she meets a small cast of characters who help guide her to her inevitable fate.
The writing in Superbrothers Sword & Sworcery EP is a bit strange in tone. Sometimes it adopts a serious, mythological temperament, then in the next breath it will take a more conversational, humorous, low-key approach. The juxtaposition works, though; the more human elements of the many humorous asides build within the player an affinity for the characters, while the serious tenor of the grand proclamations about the advent of the Time of Miracles and the Trigon Trifecta indicates the monumental scale of the errand the Scythian has undertaken. They combine to create a moving tale of adventure and sacrifice.
Choose Your Control Scheme
Superbrothers Sword & Sworcery EP makes the most of the Switch’s different inputs. You can control the Scythian with the buttons on your controller, the wireless remote of the Joycon, or the Switch’s touchscreen in undocked mode. There is a cursor on the screen that can be moved with any of the aforementioned methods that you use to move around the screen or interact with different items. Using the motion controls still requires you to use the buttons on your controller, so I found it to be the least useful of the control methods. You can also pull out your sword and attack stuff, or just hold the attack button to hold your sword aloft. Once you obtain the Megatome, you can select the Scythian on the screen at any time to begin using sworcery, which is used to solve puzzles to find the Trigons.
Fight for the Future
There isn’t that much combat in Superbrothers Sword & Sworcery EP, but there is some. The Scythian comes equipped with a sword and a shield; your two main options in combat are block and attack. Combat is entirely reactionary; you can’t move your character at all, and enemies spend most of their time out of range of your sword swings. When they attack, you have to choose how to defend. Some attack can be blocked with the shield, and you have to block attacks until they become disoriented, allowing you to counterattack. Some attacks are more sudden, accompanied by a sound prompt. When you hear that sound prompt, you must hit the block button quickly to dodge an attack.
The boss fights against the Trigons have some added elements. Each Trigon fight consists of three phases. The first is sort of like a game of Pong; the Trigon launches an energy attack, and you have to bat it back with your sword. Trying to use your shield will only result in loss of health. The second phase sees the Trigon shoot beams which must be dodged; again, the shield is useless for blocking these attacks. Finally, the Trigon will launch smaller projectiles that must be destroyed with your sword in addition to firing more beam attacks. Once more, the shield won’t block either of these attacks. While I just made it sound like the shield is useless in these fights, it actually allows you to heal when you use it. If you hold the block button long enough, you will regenerate a health star.
The combat is fairly interesting; it took me a few turns to figure out how everything worked at first. Once I got the hang of it, things got much easier. It’s not too hard, but it does move a little slow. As long as you win a fight on the first try there’s not a problem. But the slow pace of combat means having to redo a battle, specifically a Trigon battle, can make the fights a little tedious. It’s a solid system, though, and the game is short enough that the lack of variety in the fights doesn’t become a problem.
Find the Sylvan Sprites
Before you can fight a Trigon, first you have to find it. This is done using the Scythian’s sworcery ability. Whenever you enter an area, there is a distinctive chiming sound that plays on a loop to indicate the presence of a sprite. Activating sworcery mode allows you to interact with portions of the environment, for instance by rustling trees, scaring small animals, or strumming waterspouts like guitar strings. Most environmental puzzle elements need to be used in a certain order, so some trial and error is in order, but none of the puzzles are overly hard. I’m not sure I spent more than sixty seconds on any of them. The puzzles were fun though, and they allowed me to take in the scenery and provided some awesome tunes.
Getting Lost in the Woods
Superbrothers Sword & Sworcery EP takes a deceptively minimalist approach to its visuals, to breathtaking results. The pixel-based art style is pretty low-res, but packs layers of gorgeous detail into every screen. Just a few dots here and there add depth and definition to a grove of trees or brilliantly demonstrate centuries of weathering on a crumbling stone pillar. The character models are simplistic and maybe a little oddly proportioned, but the animations are smooth enough to imbue the cast with life. The color palette is fairly subdued, with a lot of dark greens and blues, but some bright whites are thrown in for contrast, building a strikingly somber atmosphere for the game’s narrative to unfold.
With Compliments to Mr. Guthrie
Much like its visuals, Superbrothers Sword & Sworcery EP takes full advantage of a relatively minimalist score as well. Composed by Jim Guthrie, who makes a few cameos in the game, the music is perhaps the highest point of the game. It’s a mix of electronic and traditional instrumental sounds, almost always adopting a slow, reflective tone befitting the woeful errand of the Scythian. While the visuals are grand and detailed, and the writing is sharp and clever, it is the music that carries the emotional weight of the game. The Ballad of the Space Babies is perhaps my favorite track; slow and sad, and maybe a little hopeful at the same time, it encapsulates and amplifies everything that makes this game great.
I already mentioned the different control methods you can use to play Superbrothers Sword & Sworcery EP. You can pretty much play it using any method the Switch offers, which is pretty cool. Having your choice of inputs is never a bad deal. Personally, like I said before, I didn’t find the motion controls all that useful in general. Using the touch controls in undocked mode was fine; I had no technical issues with it, or the motion controls, for that matter. I felt that using the controller was simply the most comfortable way to play the game. I am mostly a console gamer, though, so that may play into it some. If you use mobile devices for gaming more than me, you might have a different feeling. I also generally preferred to play it while docked because of how good it looked on my TV. A lot of times pixel-based games like this just looked stretched out on a bigger screen; Superbrothers doesn’t have that problem. If you want to see it in all its glory, I recommend Superbrothers Sword & Sworcery EP for docked play.
TL;DR: Now we’re cosmic friends forever, okay?