Mento's May Mastery: Day 18: The Swapper

I was going to start "ripping from the headlines" more often to fill these intro spots, as I appear to have made them a permanent feature of this season of May Madness (I won't be making that mistake again), but the most significant game industry thing I've heard today is that people are upset at the idea that there's an industry "fashion code". Plaid shirts, jeans, sneakers. Anyone else is made to feel like an outsider, apparently. I'm almost positive that this has more to do with the fact that industry people neither have the inclination nor time to care about what they're wearing, and simply settle on the above as an inoffensive, quick to put on and cheap to replace ensemble.

However, the notion that someone who might care a little more about dressing up for big industry events could feel like the one smart-casual person at a fancy dress party who clearly didn't read the invitation is curious (in a "I never thought of it that way before" sense), understandable and something to be empathized with. Twitter being Twitter, it seems to be either fully in agreement or fully in disagreement with these sentiments without appreciating the other party's viewpoint and meeting in the middle, but then that's nothing new.

I really should talk more about something actually video game-related before I turn this series into Kotaku Lite. I dropped NaissanceE for the time being, that's something. Might return to that either when I have a spare moment (not now - it's the start of the week, which means podcasts, which means wiki time) or way into the future when I have a better system that can run it without hitching all the time. I bothered to create a category in my Steam folder for that very purpose; it can join such rarefied company as the Arkham games that keep getting sold in bundles (that I've already played on consoles), that Thief reboot, FEAR 3 and a whole bunch of other stuff I'm sure I'll have forgotten all about in however many years it'll be before I can afford another PC. I should just rebrand that category "Limbo" and stop lying to myself.

The Swapper

No Caption Provided

It wasn't intentional to immediately follow one with the other (I actually took a list of backlog games I wanted to play and randomized it before starting the series) but Facepalm Games's The Swapper shares a lot in common with NaissanceE - moody atmosphere, excellent lighting effects, barren surroundings that suggest a past catastrophe, a female protagonist whose gender isn't emphasized and is fairly immaterial in narrative terms - but then adds a whole lot more. It's easier now to see where my apathy with NaissanceE was coming from, because the aspects I felt were missing, like an ongoing narrative, a series of well-written notes and journals that gets into some heady material and a framework of puzzle mechanics, are all elements that greatly improved my enjoyment of The Swapper.

Arriving on an abandoned spaceship after a brief visit to the nearby planet it was mining/excavating, the player is thrust into a mystery involving a bunch of telepathic rock aliens and a gun that allows the player to create clones and swap places with them. To say anything more might be spoiling the experience, as the entire narrative flow is predicated on the slow burn as the player starts to appreciate who they're controlling, what went wrong on the ship, who is in this other spacesuit wandering around and how they might find a way off the ship and back to civilization. Though the game is dark and foreboding, the game rarely goes the horror route, instead preferring to build on the suspense and mystery. In that regard, it feels a little bit more Metroid than Dead Space. Of course, the only thing you're shooting (and shooting at) are clones of yourself.

For all its perspicacious ratiocination about the nature of consciousness and identity, neither it nor the company that made it have particularly intelligent names. (I know, I know, I'm named after a candy.)
For all its perspicacious ratiocination about the nature of consciousness and identity, neither it nor the company that made it have particularly intelligent names. (I know, I know, I'm named after a candy.)

The game presents its puzzles by creating barriers which need a certain orb collectible to power them, and then presents a surplus number of these orbs in the vicinity each with its own puzzle to solve, the idea being that if you find one particular puzzle too difficult you can (temporarily) skip it. The game continues to add inexplicable wrinkles like colored lights (red light stops the beam that takes over clones, but allows you to create them in that space; blue is the opposite; magenta prevents both) and anti-gravity platforms, but they're worked into the puzzles so gradually that the player shouldn't ever feel overwhelmed. In fact, the first big puzzle epiphany doesn't even involve the puzzle rooms: there's a certain technique possible with the swapper gun that the game never deigns to tell you about. It's simply left to the player to figure it out if they hope to proceed. Oddly enough, this technique then takes a backseat for the next 60% of the game. I want to say that the developers did this intentionally; to create that wonderful breakthrough feeling you get in puzzle and adventure games in a scenario outside of the designated puzzle rooms where it can be felt more keenly. It's one thing to solve a specific room's puzzle and grab the shiny at the end, but another to completely change the way you get around the map. Almost like figuring out there's a double-jump.

The Swapper more or less continues on like this, providing consoles that move doors out of the way or turn on vital systems, but needs a specific number of orbs to do so. It's a contrivance, as is the number of rooms on the spaceship that seem to be purposely built solely to make an object harder to reach without owning a magic clone gun that presumably didn't exist before they built the ship in the first place. Don't worry about it. Instead, soak in the atmosphere, marvel at the stop-motion look of the visual design, take in the weirdness of those talking rocks and try not to think too hard about creating and killing hundreds of your own clones and whether or not they can feel pain. I mean, until the game asks you to ponder it.

I like the
I like the "Neverhood" vibe with some of these environments. (I neglected to take any screenshots myself, because I don't actually own the Steam version. Whoops! I wonder if GOG Galaxy will have a screenshot key...?)

Oh yeah, important note: I beat The Swapper in a single day, and for all my high-falutin' word wizardry I'm not actually all that bright, so caveat emptor on that if you wanted a game like this to keep you busy for a while. It can be challenging enough later on, but it's not the most difficult 2D puzzle-platformer on the Indie market. Lends to its appeal, I suppose, since it means you can expect to finish its story without too much trouble and/or looking up video walkthroughs.

Man, I'm starting to appreciate why it was hard for Patrick to talk about this game. Everything about it - from figuring out what's going on with the story to discovering new uses for the swapper - will ultimately detract from the reader/viewer's own experience. I'm glad that I skipped most of the hubbub about this game and could appreciate it fully, and I'd also highly recommend anyone who hasn't played it to do so. And to think, I dismissed it at the time for being a less whimsical The Misadventures of PB Winterbottom copycat.

Day 01: I Have No Mouth, and I Must ScreamDay 11: MiasmataDay 21: Magrunner: Dark Pulse
Day 02: I Have No Mouth, and I Must ScreamDay 12: BotaniculaDay 22: Magrunner: Dark Pulse
Day 03: I Have No Mouth, and I Must ScreamDay 13: BotaniculaDay 23: The Nightmare Cooperative & Lilly Looking Through
Day 04: Life of PixelDay 14: Shantae: Risky's RevengeDay 24: Cook, Serve, Delicious!
Day 05: Life of PixelDay 15: Bit Dungeon IIDay 25: Dreamfall: The Longest Journey
Day 06: SPAZDay 16: Stick it to the Man!Day 26: Dreamfall: The Longest Journey
Day 07: SPAZDay 17: NaissanceEDay 27: Dreamfall: The Longest Journey
Day 08: NightSkyDay 18: The SwapperDay 28: The Banner Saga
Day 09: The RoomDay 19: ClaireDay 29: The Banner Saga
Day 10: Ultionus: A Tale of Petty RevengeDay 20: DokuroDay 30: The Banner Saga
Finale: Papers, Please
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