March 31, 2011 at 5:11 AM ET
Steve Jobs and company have been known to use (read: over-use) the word "magical" when it comes to describing the iPad. While I don’t like to toss that word around quite so casually, I have to admit that the new "Sword & Sworcery" app is the kind of thing that makes one appreciate just how magical playing a game on the iPad can be.
"Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP" is the full name given this game (and no, I didn’t misspell it). But calling it a "game" falls far short in descriptive power. It’s really a mix of adventure gameplay, visual art and music bound up in one tremendously enchanting application.
At its core, "Sword & Sworcery" is an old-school adventure title. Designed by the indie developers at Capy Games, it's a game in which you're charged with leading a warrior woman known as The Scythian on a mysterious, mystical and sometimes psychedelic journey.
Simply tap on your iPad's screen to guide The Scythian in her pursuit of an enchanted book called the Megatome. Investigation and puzzle solving are the order of the day, and you’ll touch, swipe and rub the screen to examine the environment and interact with objects as a dreamy narrative unfolds chapter by chapter.
Certainly, those of you who’ve ever loved any of the "Monkey Island" or "Myst" games will feel a warm rush of nostalgia as you dive in here.
But that’s just the bones of the thing. It is the skin that will grab you first — that is, the unique pixelated visual style that exists on the surface but pulls you deep into the game's other-worldly universe. With its nod to the 8-bit games of yore, "Sword & Sworcery" is like something you’ve seen before ... and yet never seen before. Fantastical landscapes, supernatural creatures and magical moments are all done in tiny, colorful squares courtesy of the artists at Superbrothers Inc.
As you watch a pixelated stag jump through pixelated woods, you'll see just how breathtaking this old-meets-new art style really is.
But if the gameplay is the bones and the graphics are the skin, then it’s Jim Guthrie’s music that is the heart and soul here. The singer/songwriter composed and performed all the music for the game and it is absolutely sublime in the way it both accompanies the player's actions and responds to them. Haunting and utterly beautiful, it will make you expect more from all your future video game scores.
It’s so good, in fact, you might want to pick it up on iTunes in April, when you’ll find it for sale as "Sword & Sworcery LP: The Ballad of the Space Babies."
And there’s much more to this game — a nifty battle mechanic in which you rotate your iPad to unsheathe your sword and launch into combat ... the way the real world's lunar cycle affects the game's digital world ... a built-in Twitter tool that has already inspired a growing legion of players to tweet cryptic phrases from the game.
"Sword & Sworcery" is experimental and arty as hell in all the best ways, and yet it doesn't take itself too seriously. The dialog is often hilarious. Indeed, this curious mystical adventure walks a perfect tonal line between eerie and amusing.
While it was still in the works, "Sword & Sworcery" won the Achievement in Art award during the 2010 Independent Games Festival's mobile gaming competition. After finally launching on the iPad late last week (for a totally worthwhile $4.99), it has already climbed the charts and, at this writing, sits in the No. 4 spot on the paid list.
If you don’t happen to own an iPad, rest assured that "Sword & Sworcery" is coming for iPhone and iPod Touch in April. That's right, keep your eyes open and your swords ready. Steve Jobs may have promised all you Apple fans some magic ... but it's the Superbrothers and company who are delivering it.
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