The Swapper Review
Posted by Kell Andersen
The clone wars
The world of human cloning is a scientific nightmare, and in The Swapper you'll tackle that minefield head on. Curve Studios' latest indie conversion attempts to use a clever puzzle mechanic to examine and answer complex metaphysical questions. But does this charming indie solve the problem, or is it just a load of philosophical mumbo-jumbo?
In this profound puzzler, you find yourself stranded on a seemingly deserted space station, and quickly discover a strange and powerful gun known as the swapper. This bizarre contraption not only allows you to create clones of yourself, it also gives you the power to swap your consciousness between them. Soon after you find this dastardly duplication device, you glimpse another stranded astronaut off in the distance who seems to be talking to you, herself, and someone else entirely, all at the same time.
The story unravels from there, exploring the morality of the machine that you find, as well as numerous other phenomenological and metaphysical matters. Perhaps most clever, though, is the way that this philosophical indie builds a narrative around its core gameplay. This is a story which prominently features the titular gun, is exclusively about the titular gun, and will make you painfully remember every time that you used the titular gun by the time that the credits roll.
The gameplay itself is predominantly puzzle based, and requires you to coordinate your clones to complete challenges in order to earn alien artefacts which allow you to open up new areas. In this way, the game unfolds in a Metroidvania-esque manner, but without the upgrades.
However, your replicas copy your every action, so spatial awareness is key. Further complicating matters are blue and red floodlights, which often occupy vast portions of the screen, and stop you from creating and swapping between clones. The fun doesn’t end there, though, as your copies will also be immediately destroyed if you happen to touch them. What’s more, whenever you’re using the swapper, time is temporarily slowed down, allowing you to finagle your way out of even the most dangerous situations.
It’s easy to see how these relatively simple mechanics could be combined in clever ways, and the developer has definitely managed to squeeze an incredibly robust set of challenges out of them. Indeed, by the end of the game, you’ll be swapping between clones faster than the script for a Star Wars prequel.
Unfortunately, not all of the puzzles are gratifying to solve. Indeed, a handful of the later head-scratchers require frustratingly precise placement of your duplicates. This isn’t to say that the controls don’t support these rigorous requirements – they absolutely do – but having to redo a stage several times purely because you didn’t spawn your clone at the very edge of a ten pixel wide platform can be incredibly frustrating.
What’s more, it sometimes feels like the gameplay is actively working against the plot. More specifically, the urgency of the narrative often feels at odds with the almost leisurely pace of the puzzle solving. For example, something terrible is about to happen to your character if you don’t immediately proceed, but you actually have all of the time in the world to collect the artefacts that will allow you to do so. It’s certainly not a game destroying quirk, but it does sully an otherwise stellar story.
But most of this can be forgiven, if only for the game’s outstanding atmosphere. This is due in part to the soundtrack, which uses quietly smouldering synths and melancholic piano to create the perfect mood. Even more crucial, though, are the visuals, which have been painstakingly created using plasticine. Every short circuited computer panel, every extra-terrestrial rock formation; it’s all been hand-moulded and then imported into the game.
The effect is striking, but difficult to describe as beautiful or appealing. Rather, it feels gritty, handmade, and most importantly of all, makes the landscapes appear truly alien. This is a game that looks unlike anything that you’ve ever played before, and that might be its greatest asset.
The Swapper is an indie puzzle platformer with a gameplay hook which is cleverly married to a grand operatic narrative. Its strange visuals and atmospheric soundtrack augment this vision, creating a wholly unique and cohesive experience. While some of its later puzzles are a bit too fiddly for their own good, and the overall pacing sometimes feels a little off kilter, this is still a space voyage that comes highly recommended.