I’m surprised by how eager I was to make my way through a derelict space station. Despite the somber atmosphere, a narrative that frequently questioned my actions, and an NPC that seemed to despise me, I trudged on. The Swapper manages to shine through all this darkness with an exceptionally fun cloning mechanic, and despite its melancholy ways I managed to walk away with a smile on my face.
The Swapper, a product of Facepalm Games and Curve Studios, puts the titular device in the hands of an unnamed protagonist, who must make use of its cloning abilities to escape the vessel she finds herself aboard. The Swapper acts as a tool to solve the game’s puzzle rooms, earning orbs that allow for the restoration of various warp gates and mechanisms scattered across the space station. Players can create up to four copies of the protagonist, and can take control of each when the situation allows. The clones all move in unison though, so no matter which you’re in control of, the rest all act just the same.
Of course, there are some added wrinkles to these rules. The game’s lighting isn’t just atmospheric, but also creates barriers to the proceedings. Areas bathed in blue do not allow the creation of clones, while those in red block one’s attempts to swap control between the copies. Surprisingly, these are the only regulations throughout the game. I was thrilled to see the developer pull off that kind of ambition, to increase the game’s difficulty not by layering on mechanic after mechanic, but organically through the strength of these early rules.
What I appreciate most is the speed of the game. The puzzles can be solved at your own pace, and there’s rarely any need to rely on twitch reflexes. As you switch control between the clones, not once did I need to worry about a window of time to work within. It’s nice to play a puzzle-platformer as difficult as The Swapper and also be afforded the time to think it through. This point is highlighted further by the fact that when creating a clone, time slows to a crawl and allows perfect placement of the new body. None of this is to say I didn’t make mistakes, far from it. Thankfully, it’s easy enough to start a puzzle over due to each room becoming a checkpoint upon entry. For as accommodating as the checkpoints are, the developers still managed to create challenges that don’t have fail states (besides death of course), you can’t put yourself in a situation where progress is halted altogether. If a room is too difficult, the player can always move on to another, and in most cases any gating requires less orbs than the total amount the area offers. However, I would encourage players to attempt full completion, as the last gate of the game does require all possible orbs to continue.
Luckily, it isn’t hard to experience all The Swapper has to offer, especially with its narrative carrying it along. As opposed to being an untrained civilian capable of wiping out a continent’s worth of enemies, the tale told here works hand in hand with the gameplay. Throughout the title we are left to wonder just what it is the Swapper is doing. Is the protagonist moving her soul from one host to the next? Are her memories along for the ride as well? There’s plenty of evidence found throughout the game’s memory terminals that suggests what I was doing isn’t as simple as I’d assume it to be. Everything comes to a head by the game’s end, and just how you feel about the events you acted out will determine the story’s conclusion.
For as good a story it tells, The Swapper shows its world just as well. It’s a gorgeous game, and presents its sci-fi world in ways I haven’t seen before. It eschews the dirt and grime of the original Star Wars trilogy, but doesn’t take from gee-whiz future we see in a series like Mass Effect either. The Theseus is capable of so much, but seems grounded as well. While players can warp about, it makes casual use of simple elevators as well. Unfortunately, the size of the Vita screen doesn’t allow for the game’s literally hand crafted world to shine through as well as intended. While the game is indeed beautiful, only on the big screen does the homemade aesthetic become apparent. However, this isn’t a knock on the game, and doesn’t impact my feelings in any way.
It’s terrific that I can praise The Swapper in every regard. It nails each facet of its design, but each component also works together to make an even greater impact. The Swapper is all I could ask for from a game.