The Swapper is the debut title of a pair of University of Helsinki students that tells the story of strange happenings aboard Theseus, a space station and research facility located in a remote part of the galaxy. The Finnish duo hired Tom Jubert to write the script who also wrote other noteworthy indie games such as Penumbra and Faster Than Light.
The Swapper is a side-scrolling puzzle game with some occasional platforming elements and zero gravity segments. The players get their hands on the titular device almost immediately. The device has two functions, it can create up to four clones of the main character and it can then swap souls between each body. No matter which body the player controls, the clones will all mimic his actions. The puzzles mostly revolve around placing yourself and the clones in certain places to be able to reach the orbs that are necessary for powering the ship’s systems. The player’s progress is impeded by three types of light. Blue light prevents cloning, red light prevents swapping whereas the purple light prevents both. Later on the game also introduces gravity-based puzzles which offer a nice change of pace.
The puzzle design is absolutely superb, logical and perfectly balanced. Some of the puzzles may stump you a bit, but everything is manageable with a bit of logical thinking and simply trying out a few different ideas. The design is semi open ended. The ship is closed off at certain points which require the orbs to progress further, but for the most part, it’s up to you which room/puzzle you want to tackle first. If a certain puzzle is giving you problems, you can leave and try later, but finishing the game will require solving all puzzles and getting all the orbs.
The other major part of the game whose significance cannot be overstated are the production values. The entirety of the game’s assets were created from clay and other household materials which were then digitized into the game. The lighting and color palettes are mesmerizing. The art-style and sound design masterfully create an incredibly macabre atmosphere and a fantastic sense of desolation. This is further heightened by the narrative which is crafted in such a way that provides more questions than answers. It is a sort of philosophical theme of thought and soul versus matter and energy. Sometimes it veers to pretentiousness, but overall the writing is very good and will hold the player’s interest.
Simply put, The Swapper is an astonishing achievement in both game design and visual arts rarely seen in the video game medium and it is easily the top representative of its respective genre.