S:S&S is a one-of-a-kind game of sonorous experience, self-awareness, moon cycles, and time.

User Rating: 10 | Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP IOS

Toronto-based Superbrothers' "Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP" has been on many people's radar for a while now, even since it won IGF's Achievement in Art (Mobile) in 2010. Finally released to i-devices, it's won wide acclaim for it's fresh take on game experience and it's wondrous aesthetics. After completing the game, I can now say that it's easily one of the most moving experiences of play available on any platform.

As the female protagonist known only as The Scythian, you begin your adventure by seeking the Megatome in a dark and lonely temple. As the world darkens upon your success, soon a new adventure unfolds as you seek the Trigon through the world of dreams and beyond in order to restore the land. Thus you set out on a variety of puzzles using the Megatome. Though the gameplay itself isn't very substantial (a few basic fights and puzzles) S:S&S is more about the experience of the play while you play. A great example of this are the fights themselves; though they use simple block, attack, and dodge moves, much of the combat centers around the music, from which the tempo and rise and fall of the sounds indicate the pattern of play to find success. Thus even the actions you take depend heavily on the cues from the environment.

And as an experience of play, S:S&S is a masterpiece. It boasts perhaps the very best sound accompaniment to any game I've ever played, for starters. The music, by Jim Guthrie, is astounding, with forlorn melodies which ache with longing, which harmonize with the natural sounds of the environment, dog barks, birds, owls, waterfalls, and more. And as noted, it's virutally impossible to play the game without sound. Many of the puzzles require it, and the entire mood of the game is surrounded by it. Of course, the visual design is delightful too. Set in shades of blue and green, depending on the moon's light and the status of reality/dream, each section is lovingly crafted to nigh perfection. When you enter a scene, zoomed close in, that scene is fully encompassing and expressive. And yet when you zoom out to take in the entire scene, that too has the impression of fullness - no opportunity to impress visually goes by undone. Through waterfalls and caverns, temples and forests, S:S&S envelops the player in the experience of play like few games ever have.

Of course, a few critics have noted the shallow feeling that aspects of the "gameplay" are shallow, and those seem accurate. In terms of gameplay, if it were another game, S:S&S isn't expansive. The fights, though difficult at times, are rather basic, and the puzzles, though taking some trial and error, are similarly simple. And yet the experience of these events are anything but simple. Rather, they're elevated into incredibly special moments though the artwork, sound, and tempo of play. Thus S:S&S may certainly be far more than the sum of its parts. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that this game isn't about gameplay at all. Rather, it's about the exprience of dreaming while being self-aware, in that in-between state, rising and falling in consciousness. Viewed as such, it isn't whether or not the combat is suitably substantial, because it isn't about the combat. Rather it's about how you feel when you engage in it.

I'd also be remiss not to mention the game's play with Time and Self-Awareness. Moon cycles play a large role in the game, and though you can adjust your phone to mimic these cycles, without waiting a full month to complete each section correctly, you won't fully complete the game percentage-wise. S:S&S is also very much a meta-game in many ways. Characters like The Archetype commonly assert knowledge only the player would know (rather than They Scythian) and much of the game plays on that level. Yet rather than feeling ironic, such engagement feels entirely appropriate for a game which "works" on so many levels. Ultimately, it almost feels as if the game is playing the player at times.

All told, Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery is a magnificent game. It elevates experience of play far beyond the mundane of it's peers, and at many times moves the player emotionally in entirely unexpecting ways. Though easily billed as an "art game", I think such terms belittle the events of the game. It's not a game of irony that most art games are. Rather it's a moving experience that reveals the vast majority of games to be trite, shallow, and unambitious.