About a week ago I was lying in bed, awake but not ready to get up yet so I pulled out my iPad and went in search of a new RPG to try. There are a lot of repurposed old JRPGs and D&D games on the platform, but I was burned out on Baldur’s Gate and in no mood for another endless Final Fantasy run. I just wanted a little adventure. As I searched, I was reminded of the reason I’ve been staying away from original IP on iPad. There are just so few female protagonists and I am not alone in being sick to death of having to pay extra to unlock them or hope for them to be added as a stretch goal.
Then I was rescued from mundanity with a recommendation of exactly what I needed! Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP is a beautiful little adventure game available on a PC and mobile platforms. I played it on my iPad and felt like the controls were designed for it. Fighting a triangle feels more epic than most monster boss battles in more elaborate games, but you won’t want to rush through Sword and Sworcery to beat it so much as wander around and spend time in it.
The simple pixel art is beautifully handled and the characters are really striking and recognisable for their proportions. It really feels like every spot of colour was carefully considered and placed. I loved the animation in particular. There was something very naturalistic about the movement of the characters and animals in the background that gave them so much life.
The music in the game is at its’ heart though, so do turn the volume up if you have the chance, or better yet, use headphones. One of my more memorable moments was dreaming of a musician in a quiet grove, and sitting down to listen him play.
An original adventure game on iPad with a female protagonist is a rare thing, so it’s tough for me to step back from all the excitement to analyse it properly. The first thing to note is that the character has a defined gender without being sexualised in any way. She also manages to avoid any annoying tropes or cliches associated with heroins within her arch. The Scythian is an adventurer who happens to be female, but her gender isn’t made to define her.
On the other hand, a look at the rest of the characters shows a mostly male cast, from my reading, and the only other character identified as female is ‘Girl’. Girl is relatively passive throughout the game, so aside from the protagonist herself, all the agency belongs to the supporting male cast. This is a disappointing trend that I’ve seen cropping up in female lead games quite a lot.
The thing is, it feels a lot like there’s more to Girl than meets the eye. Outwardly she’s very quiet. She doesn’t offer much guidance like Dogfella and Logfella or tell you where to go, but once you start see how she thinks, it becomes clear that she can offer just as much, if not more, insight. She knows what you have to do. She knows what to expect from the trigon and how to face the Gogolithic Mass. But for some reason, she’s not confident enough to step forward and offer that advice.
It would have been nice to have a more than just the two female characters, but I got the feeling that the developers knew what they were doing with their representations of gender.
There is a whole lot of walking around in Sword and Sworcery, so it can get frustrating. In a way it forces you to sit back, explore and wonder at things rather than pushing headlong to defeat it. I did get a little stuck due to playing the game during a full moon (yes, that’s a thing), but when i talked to others that had it easier, it was clear that they’d missed some of the details I stumbled upon while lost, so maybe it was worth it.
The controls on iPad were perfect and very simple, the combat felt epic and tense despite involving only two buttons and the puzzles were beautiful, if not particularly challenging. While the fights are fairly repetitive, there isn’t too much combat, and since the Scythian weakens throughout the game, it still becomes more challenging and foreboding as it goes on.
The story is simple but quite meta, so it helps if you’re into that sort of thing. There’s also a surreal quality to it’s flow. What really caught my attention was the range of characters and how you get to know them. You are treated as an outsider and it feels like you’re being kept at arms length, but with respect. Then a mechanic is added early in the game that allows you to see what the characters are thinking. This acts as a hints and tips option and gives you cues to move the narrative forward, but more importantly, it gives you an insight into the cast’s personalities and opinions.
There’s obviously lots to say about this game. I thought it was cool and subversive and it was exactly what I wanted. I enjoyed the intellectual tomfoolery of it all as well as the sincere emotional narrative. The music is amazing and the visuals memorable. It was more than worth the purchase price and I’d recommend it to one and all.
Siobhan is an artist who was raised on every type of game and make believe. She grew up rescuing fuzzy animals and the occasional princess, slaying monsters and competing with her older brother. Now she’s a fan of befriending monsters, playing co-op and getting lost in a good story. When she’s not gaming, Siobhan works as a 3D artist in Brown Bag Films, enjoys anime, writing and crafts, and is currently learning all about quilling!