Video games have always had trouble standing the test of time. While some games are regarded as classics, able to be enjoyed no matter the era–most games fall victim to the ever evolving standard that we as gamers hold the games we love. From graphics to mechanics, the game we thought was the best thing since sliced bread five years ago is now a moldy abomination that must be tossed to the side for the new slice of bread. Now with the next generation of consoles finally in their stride and a mature mobile market it’s time we ask ourselves a simple question. Will mobile games fall victim to the test of time, or will their emphasis on quick gaming moments save them? I decided to test this theory with Sword and Sworcery EP. Does it stand the test of time? Let’s find out.
Mobile Gaming’s “Renaissance”
Released in 2011, Sword and Sworcery(S&S) was one of the games people mentioned during the mobile gaming craze. You remember the craze, back when critics, analysts and the mainstream press said that mobile games would replace consoles? Well, S&S was one of the games that people would highlight when discussing mobile’s eminent dominance. It was one of the first games that was developed with a level of polish that was usually associated with console games. This wasn’t a typical endless runner, this was a “game”; Dope soundtrack, pixel art, and game mechanics that asked players to do more than just tap a screen to make a character jump over a box. But that was back in 2011. Since then the major video game publishers have joined the mobile scene and expectations are different than what they once were. And those expectations haven’t fared well with Sword and Sorcery.
Game or Interactive Mixtape?
What set Sword and Sorcery apart from the thousands of games in the App Store was its holistic approach to a player’s experience. A game that is best played with headphones, S&S blends a simplistic yet much loved art style with atmospheric tones and a well developed soundtrack. At one point during the game I had to stop and wonder:
“Is this a game or a meditative experience?”
As a ‘traditional’ game it has faults(more on that later), but if you were to look at the game through the same lens that people place on games like Journey then it works. And it works well. For example, during the campaign you must use a special power called the Song of Sorcery to find various Sylvan Sprites hiding in specific locations. While you’re using the Song, the music fades and a mediative white noise hums through your earbuds as you tap the screen hunting for sprites. Once you locate the Sprite you must click on it to help it ascend. Each time it ascends it emits a soothing tone before finally ascending into the heavens. The entire experience is supposed to place you in a tranquil state of mind, and depending on your experience it might just succeed.
Venturing Outside The Game’s Limitations
While the game excels at creating atmosphere and mood, it has trouble defining what it is it actually wants you to do, and this is where the game shows its age. Unlike today’s mobile game, S&S focuses more on the interactive elements of the game. You tap or hold areas of the screen to move your character. Turn the phone vertically to fight and check your inventory. But none of it moves past a level of simplicity that wears thin as the game goes on. For example, most of the game requires you to travel between areas and where one would expect some sort of fast travel, that feature is nonexistent. Instead you must walk to each area, which can prove to be a problem if you are lost or need to travel from one side of the map to the next. The inventory system, which is more of a help guide, only provides help in the form of riddles. But after turning your phone vertically for the umpteenth time it begins to grow stale.
Combat is also simplistic but satisfying on a certain level. The game does a good job of creating variety in combat situations, but it never reaches that point of excitement. It is good at what it does and that’s it. Not that it’s a bad thing, but it leaves you wanting more.
With a game that builds on atmosphere and simplicity, one would think that the story would follow in the same way. And while the story is pretty simple, it’s delivered in a manner that either frustrates or completely alienates. The dialogue in Sword and Sworcery is littered with inside jokes for gamers. From the loathing of fetch quests to characters dosing off because an explanation is going on too long, if you’ve played video games you get it. It’s that snark that was ever present a few years ago. However, if you’ve never played a video game and this is your first jump into the medium it will probably alienate you. And even if you do get the jokes, there’s a strong chance you STILL won’t know what’s going on. Nothing is ever truly explained in this game. The game gives you clues on what to do based on riddles and other esoteric meanings, which might be cool for a console game, but when I only have few minutes I need you to get to the point.
A History Lesson
Originally I posed a question, does Sword and Sworcery stand the test of time? The answer to that question is yes and no. Sword and Sworcery serves as a game that continues to serve as the foundation for many mobile games. Many of the mechanics that you might see in today’s mobile games were probably polished and introduced in this game. S&S has positioned itself as one of the games you need to play. In the same way that there are certain console games that every gamer should play, Sword and Sworcery is one of the mobile games that you need to play. However, the question becomes, how long will you play this game? If you’re in to more atmospheric, moody games where it’s more about feeling than gameplay this will be one you play for hours. But if cryptic messages and some slow pacing aren’t your thing then do one of two things. Watch some gameplay on YouTube or wait until it reaches a price point where you won’t feel like you lost money if you don’t finish it.