c0l0nelp0c0rn1's Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP (PC) review

A true disempowerment fantasy.

I just finished Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP. What started out as a breezy adventure game quickly turned into a commentary on death, inevitability, and how much control a video game player actually has. I'm getting ahead of myself. If you don't know, EP is a game by Superbrothers and Capybara games. I wanted to find out a little about the Superbrothers but they/he/she don't seem to know that some of us don't use Twitter or have an iPhone or want to sign up for an email list. Anyway, Capybara games is a prolific iOS developer, putting out such classics as “Monkey on Your Back!” and “Manic Medic AKA Take Yer Meds!”. They also made Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes. You know that game, right? Anyway, they seem pretty proficient in iOS development so it makes sense that they would make a bad iOS to PC port right?

Okay, it's not bad, but it's not great either. Still, the differences between an iPad and my laptop are pretty big. I can't shake my laptop and expect a response, I can't have multiple points of contact on the screen with only one mouse, and onscreen buttons have no place when a keyboard is present. I played the entire game without using the keyboard, but that's because I had forgotten that you could use it. None of these problems break the game, but it does make it an unpleasant experience some of the time.

At least it looks pretty.

The power of my laptop, on the other hand, is a very positive difference between PC and iPad. It means that more lush graphics can be pushed onto my displ-they're using pixel art!?!?! I thought we had moved past pretentious pixel art? Oh wait, it's got an interesting color palette and doesn't bring to mind any specific visual style, game, or platform? Huh, that's a bit different. The music is also a bit different. Composed by Jim Guthrie, a jam man/band artist, the soundtrack runs the gamut from synthesized chiptunes and triumphant rock themes. I especially liked the tones given off by the sprites that tickled my pleasure centers like no other video game noise has in a long time. It's unfortunate that the Humble Indie Bundle V is no longer being sold, because the really great soundtrack comes with that one.

It looks pretty at night, too.

What I really wanted to write about was the ending, but since I don't want to spoil it:

The Scythian is an incredibly interesting character as a silent protagonist. It is a silent protagonist that you cannot project yourself onto. It's not because she's an inhumane monster or an overly goody goody good guy, but because she does everything you say. The game is constantly telling you that the Scythian is on a woeful errand, but they never say why. It's also a dis-empowerment fantasy in the truest sense of the word. It's not a game that takes power away and then gives it back shortly after or gives you something equivalent to solve the same problem in a different way. Instead, it's a game that removes health from your character in the same way that Zelda gives you more health. As you defeat the trigons, you lose health, insinuating that this “woeful errand” will kill the Scythian. Furthermore, the game implies that the Scythian is doing this against her will, and is following the command of an all powerful God (the player) only because he/she is all powerful. This is further cemented by the very end of the game when a numbers station plays off a giant record/magic tome. It's not as if this numbers station woke the sleeper agent inside the player, but it's implying that people who play games do things for compulsory reasons that don't make sense and are self-destructive to their goals. Think of how many times you've played through a game on a hard difficulty to get achievements. Was that fun? Are we a self-defeating people when we obsess over every little tiny thing in a game? Do we play games for fun, anymore? Also, the epilogue seems to draw the conclusion that the death of the Scythian is very happy (the music is happy and jaunty) thing to have happened. Then they (Logfella and dark-haired girl) just throw her on a funeral pyre with little to no fanfare and then go and have a celebration. Making the player feel bad does not make it any more poignant a story, but more importantly it doesn't jive with the rest of the game.

Anyway, I liked the game, but I thought that there was a lot in the way of my enjoyment. The moon stuff was clever for about the first five minutes of thinking about it, and then it just became tedious and boring even with the ability to change it whenever you want. The social media nonsense is also layered pretty thick in a way that makes it look super gross. The pattern based memorization in the boss fights reminded me of Punch-Out!!!, but in a bad way somehow. Ultimately, though you'll have to get past the touch-based nature of the game on a device that doesn't let you use that input method. Also, the game didn't credit me for some achievements that I know I achieved. Sucks.

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