By Mike Bezek
Do you remember that summer vacation you took after you graduated high school? If you haven’t yet graduated, please leave the room, adults are talking. That fateful summer was filled with freedom and carelessness, like all those fluorescent-skinned beautiful people in Abercrombie & Fitch ads. It’s one of those fond memories that you carry with you for the rest of you life because it was a taste of a different world, a chance at redefining your preconceptions of how things “ought to be”. Superbrothers echoes these very memories in their simplistic and lighthearted, yet deep experience that has to be played to be believed.
I picked up Swords and Sworcery in a Humble Bundle a few months back due to my laziness in purchasing Trine II. Honestly, that is an excuse, I am just trying to make myself feel less guilty for not picking S&S up sooner. Like most games we purchase during these wallet engulfing events, S&S sat on my digital shelf like a postcard from a vacation long forgotten. A few weeks ago, on a rainy Sunday afternoon on TPG’s off-day, I decided to give it a whirl because my past self decided to at least install it. Thanks, past me.
There are few times that I immediately sit up in a chair and collect myself in an air of disbelief. “Oh…..oh, wow. Hey, come listen to this!” I shouted down the hall to my significant other. She loitered in the doorway for a second, “Is this music for a game?” I nodded quickly while not taking my eyes of the screen. I was sold in that very moment, I did not need any more convincing that I was about to go on an unforgettable journey. My inner audiophile tingled with excitement, it was not too often that games placed such high expectations for themselves in music production from the very start. Jim Guthrie has crafted a subtle and engaging soundtrack that resonates the same warm feeling you get when you hear an old game tune you haven’t heard in years, it’s immediately recognizable and brings a smile to your face. I don’t know how he has done it, so I am going to assume it’s black magic and leave it at that.
The game immediately begins to mock you by throwing out technical terms left and right, courtesy of the games narrator. While it is disconcerting at first, you eventually catch on that the game is poking fun at the player as well as themselves. Constant reference to herself, the main character, in the third person in a flippant and sarcastic manner also brings levity to every scene. This game was created to be quoted, and you are able to capture these little textual morsels of sardonic delight by Tweeting them at any point with a handy option nestled at the top of the screen. Balk if you like at social integration, but spreading the good, humorous words contained in this work of art should move even the most petulant opposer of the social media world. It’s funny, it’s endearing, it’s what writing in games should be.
After the games narrator conveniently switches his title to “The Archetype”, and we continue our conversation in a fashion I could only describe as talking to my crazy grandpop Jim. Sorry grandpop. Asking me arbitrary personal questions that seem to hold no significance to the game eventually leads to plunking me down next to the heroine of the game, “The Sythian”. “A point and click? Wait, I don’t like these types of games” I hesitantly thought to myself. Disagreeable me was having a conflict of interest at this point; on one hand I had a soundtrack that oozed with near-tangible nostalgia, but I was also playing a game that required very little from the player. But what did I say about being young? Go be reckless and all that jazz? Yeah, that sounds about right.
After tip-tapping my way to the next area while gathering my bearings, learning how to navigate my pixellated protagonist, I run into my new best friend: Dogfella. Maybe it’s because I am a dog-owner, but the name of this digital companion instantly brought a smile to my face. You immediately care for him, as the connotation of “fella” invokes a disarming familiarity to all friendly characters within the game. The inclusion of the aptly named Megatome allows players to read the current thoughts of other characters as a moment of insight into their background, or just for a good laugh. The simple fact that you can keep tabs on what Dogfella is thinking (which is exactly what you think it is) brings a knee-jerk reaction of joy each time you search the tome.
I pushed myself away from my desk for a moment. I was lost, a feeling that I had not felt in a great while from a game so seemingly simplistic. Thought I was lost in a good way, like when you turn down an unknown road and find your future favorite diner by accident. A light breath on my shoulder startled me, my fiance had already taken residence like a hawk perched atop my head. “What are you doing?” She asked impatiently, ”Keep going! Talk to Logfella! I love the music.” I immediately complied to appease the newly converted, suddenly rabid fan of quaint point and click adventures. The funny thing was, I was quickly heeding the point and click gospel as well.
After convening with my merry party of Dogfella and Logfella, a lumberjack that conveniently holds the very key to open the fateful mountain pass door, we head towards the hillside. While my journey was still shrouded in ambiguity, I was already compelled beyond reason to move forward. A three eyed wolf suddenly appears at the top of the hill, ominously watching our ragtag, yet valiant advance. In the spirit of the game, I fancied the idea of going right up to him and smacking him in his ugly alien wolf face. My hopes were put center stage as I found myself locked in furious battle with something not capable of being bestowed the moniker WolfFella. I quickly discovered that the key to my survival was perfectly timed button presses while interpreting the movements of my opponent when he telegraphs his attacks. After a few chunks of my flesh had been rended, totally not a big deal, WolfJerk made a hasty retreat into the mountains. Our party reveled in my victory over, well, whatever it was that just attacked us.
Another Jim Guthrie track spun up once again to the enjoyment of everyone in my household. You know you are participating in nothing short of a cathartic symphony when you find people who could care less about your Nintendo 360’s and PlayBox’s making note of the quality of sound coming from your speakers. We continued up the hill in pursuance of our still ambiguous goal, shrouded in mystery and sarcasm. While I was sure that many more perils and deadpan jokes lied before me, I was compelled to continue on with a smirk plastered on my face.
S&S is a game that anyone can play, and yet, it transcends the typical barrier that exists in what draws a casual and hardcore gamer. Instead of presenting a learning curve with egregious tutorials that make no effort to integrate themselves with the gameplay, developers should strive to make a game similar to S&S, one that comes naturally over time. The original Mega Man games along with Mega Man X were crafted in such a way that players were immediately taught through cause and effect how to navigate the fast-paced gameplay. There was no reading involved, it was engaging and provided immediate satisfaction. S&S meshes with this philosophy by providing the player with an environment that calls out to them, a score that the harkens memories of home, and a story that evokes happiness and wonder.
In the many instances where are paying more than $50 for a quality experience, how is it that S&S is available to us at the paltry price of $4.99? Is it because we classify Superbrothers as an indie developer who does not reserve the right to charge consumers the price that studios with a hundred staffers does? We have here a game that forces the player to check his preconceptions at the door and take a deeper look at what they are placing their hard earned money towards. Maybe I am a sappy soul, but I play games because they mean something to me, but I am not ashamed to admit that I sometimes see true beauty in the massive digital swath we now live in. S&S is a game that silently slips its chummy ways into your psyche with ease and becomes your best friend before you even realize it. I find myself with a lump in my throat thinking about how beautiful such an unassuming work of art can conjure such an evocative response, and yet, I hope that I can find many, many more in the future.
Authors Note: I urge everyone who has enjoyed this article, or the game itself, to please support Superbrothers and purchase the game here. Even more so, I implore you to support Jim Guthrie in his endeavors by purchasing the S&S Soundtrack here.