There are two indie games I've been playing that I've been meaning to signal boost, on account of they're both pretty fantastic. Specifically The Swapper and Incredipede. Both are multi-platform and available via Steam or their respective websites, plus Incredipede is part of the current Humble Bundle. In other words, cheap! So you have no excuse! Opinions on each follow...
This might not be true for everyone, but the first thing that stands out to me when playing The Swapper is the sound design. Major kudos to Facepalm Games (which also has the best name/logo ever) for clearly putting a lot of care into how their game *sounds*. Even(/especially) the opening menu sets the game's aural tone: simultaneously beautiful and eerie in a delightfully unsettling way. The little audio touches continue throughout, like the fact that the rhythm of your footsteps changes appropriately depending on whether you are walking forward or backward.
But ok, I'm a sound nerd. What about visuals and gameplay? Both are just as great, if not better. The Swapper may be the most visually beautiful side scroller I've ever played, and the visuals help the audio create an immersive and emotionally effective atmosphere, another rare trait for a side-scroller.
In terms of gameplay, the designers do an excellent job of providing a wide variety of puzzles using a small set of simple and elegant mechanics, mainly:
- You can teleport-clone a copy of yourself elsewhere in the level
- You can "swap" with a clone to change which one is "really" you
- The "real" you has to reach the goal to solve the puzzle
- Related: you only die if the "real" you dies, and many situations require sacrificing a clone. The game manages to be both deliciously subtle and brutally effective at making you think about the implications of that.
- You cannot create a clone where a blue light is shining
- Swapping is blocked by red lights
I haven't played all the way to the end (on a guess I'm about 75% of the way through), but so far the puzzles have mostly been "just hard enough"-- challenging but not frustrating. That said, IMO they could be harder. So far I've been missing the feeling I get from, for example, some of the really great Portal 2 Co-op levels, where I bang my head against the wall for a while but then feel like the cleverest clever what ever clevered when I figure it out. Still, there have been plenty of rooms in The Swapper that have left me scratching my head for a while, and thinking to myself "well played, level designers" at the end.
Lastly I can't review this game without mentioning another thing that makes The Swapper an unusual side scroller. It has a plot. It's not what I'd call a plot-centric game, but there's clearly a Thing that is happening, and you learn about the Thing not through between-level cutscenes, but through in-game events, artifacts like log entries... other things, and moreover the environment its self, which tells and/or illustrates parts of the story/Thing beautifully. All these elements come together to provide information in a slow drip that is skillfully paced to maintain the weird combination of unease and fascination that defines the game's tone.
Ok, confession: I've played about Incredipede for about ten minutes. At this point I've probably spent longer than that writing this post, and yet, despite having planned to write a review of The Swapper for days, this is the game that made me go "I've gotta share this right now" (also due to it being part of the current Humble Bundle Weekly Sale, which is a limited time thing). Because of this, there's only so much I can write, so I'll simply say this: after playing the first five-ish levels of the game to get my brain warmed up this morning, I...
- Found myself thinking about engineering and mechanics in ways I'd never done before
- Emailed a maker/teacher friend of mine to suggest he check it out for use in his classroom
- Wrote this review
The game is gorgeous, and the physics are really cool, but my main complaint so far is that to me the "real" game is a bit... well, if not hidden, not on the default path I think a lot of people will take, which is too bad because it's fascinating. From what I've gathered, if you play on normal it's mainly a game of balance, maybe comparable to World of Goo. My advice is to play on Hard, and don't stop until you've reached the fifth level, called "Growing More". That's where Incredipede becomes something like the anatomical equivalent of Crayon Physics (another great game if you haven't played it), and you start solving puzzles by "building" increasingly elaborate creatures limb by limb, and muscle by muscle. I genuinely think if I'd had this game growing up I would have a much more intuitive grasp of mechanics now. As an added bonus, you can share creatures you've built online and either watch or control creatures that others have built, and folks have made some pretty crazy stuff.
In summary, although I feel a bit dumb writing reviews without having played all (or in the case of Incredipede even much) of the games in question, consider it a testament to their quality that I'm excited enough about going "guys guys, check this out!" to do so anyway. Both of them are original, beautiful, and obviously the results of a lot of talent and a lot of passion. If you're in the market for a new game, help out a deserving indie dev and try them yourself!