Gamers are a sadistic bunch of people. Really, when you look at how we lust after bloody, gruesome games full of carnage left and right it’s pretty hard to deny. Then you look at a game like Swarm and feel like you almost want to protect the strange blue creatures. Once you’ve tasted defeat, however, that bloodlust returns and you realize it’s just as fun to lose as it is to win.
Swarm, available now on PSN and XBLA, is not your typical video game. It has a lot in common with titles such as Lemmings and Pikmin. The gamer is in control of maneuvering a bunch of little blue beings from one place to another without killing them all. The creatures themselves are known as “swarmites” and they look almost like jellybeans with twig arms and legs. Their eyes are wide and buggy – full of fear.
Swarmites really do have a lot to fear. Their world is very unlike ours; filled with dangers left and right. There are saws, bombs, spikes, flames, and larghe aforementioned stacking works well for a wer creatures scattered throughout the levels. The worlds appear dark and somewhat industrial which only adds to the unfriendly atmosphere surrounding your troop. At the start of each level fifty swarmites pop out of their giant, mushy parental unit. That is the team the gamer is tasked with bringing to the end of the level, as well as collecting as many orbs along the way as possible.
These initial 50 creatures are not all you can take care of though. With levels laced with death around every corner it would be nearly impossible to keep at least a few guys from the initial batch alive all the way through the world. Thankfully, there are pods scattered throughout the level which contain new swarmites. Running over them when the team is not at max capacity will make more spawn to fill in the gaps. Most of these birthing pods cannot be accessed infinitely though, and will pop after a certain amount of new swarmites have been allocated. These pods are strategically placed however to be near areas of struggle to taper the difficulty down.
Having a large group of swarmites isn’t always necessary, but there are times when it is very convenient. Sometimes levels will have buttons that need to be pressed down to grant some sort of special gift. Some of the buttons will have a large number on them, such as “30″ which denotes how many swarmites must stand atop it for the button to be triggered. While sometimes they simply disperse large orbs, having a certain amount of orbs is necessary to complete a level as they grant you points. Another feature that becomes very useful with a large team of creatures is that they can stack up on top of each other like a totem pole to reach high up into the air. From there they can either jump to high ledges, across large gaps, bash into hanging objects, or collect orbs floating high above the ground. The little guys are pretty ingenious.
There will also be times when having a full group of 50 might actually be a hindrance. The world of Swarm is filled with tight and narrow ledges to cross and many other obstacles. With any number of creatures under control, they are able to be commanded to squeeze in tight to each other. However, with a full group the squeezing isn’t quite as tight and many unfortunate swarmites will tumble to their doom off ledges. Telling them to do the aforementioned stacking works well for a while, but after walking long enough the totem will begin to lean. Not to worry though, your team will thin down whether you like it or not throughout the levels.
The mechanics of the game are simple. Controlling the swarmites is done with a few various button combinations but nothing all too intense. They are generally very simple creatures who jump, run, bash, and do a few other things. What ratchets the game up from being okay to good is how fun it turns out to be. Often it seems the most fun titles are the simplest. Games with concepts that are easy to learn but hard to master are the kinds that are played again and again. It may be too soon to tell, but Swarm is looking like one of those games. The control method is simple, but the execution is difficult. Time and time again you’ll get the timing of a jump just barely off or estimate the speed of an explosion too slow. Frustration would usually set in, if it weren’t for the fact that the deaths are kind of hilarious. When the team all dies you get a nice slow motion view of their terminated existence before loading up again. It’s strangely amusing to see the poor guys get tangled up, sliced, or just plain fall off the world. There is the occasional disembodied sound byte of someone going “nooooooo!” as well. It really helps to pull you out of the situation a bit and recognize how silly it all is.
Swarm isn’t an entirely new concept for a game, but it does what it sets out to do well. What is it that it sets out to do? It seems it simply wants to let people have fun at the expense of thousands, no, millions of swarmite deaths. It’s all a very simple premise for a simple game but it gets people to have fun. At the heart of things, isn’t that what games are supposed to be about? Swarm may not be the deepest game you’ve ever played, but it’s worth a try just the same.