“Swarm is definitely one of the best downloadable games I’ve played so far this year
One of my very first gaming experiences came courtesy of my mom and a copy of Lemmings for the Amiga. Although my undeveloped brain was never able to succesfully guide those pesky rodents to safety, I still spent almost all of my years as a toddler trying! Despite being a critical success back in early 90’s the Lemmings brand slowly became diluted, thanks in-part to a string of mediocre ports. Nintendo took the core concept and revitalized it in 2003 with Pikmin but it has now been 7 years since the last game was released. It currently unclear if Sony will ever do the Lemmings series justice and we may not see Pikmin 3 until the Wii 2 is released, so here to fill the void is HotHead Games’ Swarm.
Best known for developing the Penny Arcade games and last year’s DeathSpank duo, HotHead Games are quickly becoming one of the most revered developers on the PSN/XBLA. However their latest title has slipped past almost everyone’s radar.
I’m pretty sure that most of you have no idea what Swarm is, and to be honest I had no idea myself until I booted up the game for the very first time. This also meant that my expectations for game were pretty low but I’m pleased to announce that Swarm is definitely one of the best downloadable games I’ve played so far this year. HotHead’s underappreciated gem is essentially a puzzle platformer, filled with environmental hazards and obstacle to overcome. Your task is to guide a group of 50 Swarmites across a level, keeping as many of them alive as possible. Swarmites are a group of tiny, blue (and comically clueless) creatures who have crash-landed on very dangerous planet where death is almost certain. Your vessel is Mama, a giant pod who feeds and grows off of the DNA which your Swarmites whilst on their ventures. Death is not necessarily a bad thing in Swarm as you earn you points every time one of your ‘mites bites the dust, however once all 50 members of your squad have been gassed, blown up or torn apart its game over! Occasionally you’ll also have to sacrifice a few good ‘mites in order to keep the majority alive but checkpoints and replenish pods are scattered across each level to help keep your numbers up.
Simply completing each level isn’t what Swarm is about, you’ll also want to make it to the end with as much points as possible in your kitty. Points are earned by collecting orbs (whether food or DNA) and chaining together multipliers. Unlike Lemmings or Pikimin you have direct controls over your entire Swarm, who all move together in pack. Micro-managing 50 small creatures, all while collecting goodies and avoiding dangers could have resulted in a mess of a game but thankfully intuitive and fluid controls actively work to combat this.
“The inclusion of Death Medals and the high score element should keep you hooked for a handful of hours
As a group your Swarm can jump, huddle together to squeeze through narrow paths, expand to cover a wide area all at once, pile on top of each other and even perform a block-breaking speed boost which also allows you to jump further. The game’s comical violence also works in its favour and makes it easier to make those all important sacrifices which I spoke about earlier. Ideally you’ll want to decimate almost your entire squad, earning you tons of points before replenishing your pack at the nearest pod generator. This is not always the case though, as sometimes you’ll have to be very careful about just how many Swarmite you allow to die. Every so often you’ll come across a pressure pad which requires a certain amount of ‘mites to active. If you don’t have enough members to activate these pads you’ll not only miss out on a bunch of handy orbs, you could also potentially break a multiplier chain which could dramatically affect your overall score. Unfortunately rigorous trail and error is the only way to know the exact approach you should take on each level but the enthuses on high scores and clever leaderboard integration makes replaying each level extremely rewarding.
Graphically Swarm doesn’t exactly push its respective platforms to their limits although I am quite fond of game’s art design. Making your way through each of the game’s 10 levels wont take very long but the inclusion of Death Medals and the high score element should keep you hooked for a handful of hours. At $15 the barrier of entry is also pretty steep, especially since this type of game doesn’t appeal to wide audience. $10 would have been a more fitting price point.
Put simply; if you enjoyed games like Pikmin or Lemmings you should definitely consider picking this game up. For everyone else, you might want to hold out for the inevitable price cut.
This review was based on a purchased copy of the game for the PS3.