Version tested: iPad
If there's a better kind of comfort game than an RPG, I haven't found it. Even at the genre's simplest - as with Swordigo, for example, which is simplicity itself - they offer the warm reassurance that often lurks within a familiar structure, and the series of tidy little pleasures that come with levelling up, unlocking a few new tricks, and opening all those gleaming treasure chests.
Swordigo's so traditional, in fact, that if it was any less cheery it might be a little boring. It keeps you smiling, though, with a guileless and wonderfully primitive PS1-era art style, and real-time combat that crunches along in a blizzard of simple swipe attacks and the odd burst of magic. The village is threatened, your mentor's taken one for the team, and only you can save the world: it's a straightforward setup and it draws you into a straightforward adventure. Dash around, leap from one platform to the next, engage in the odd block puzzle, and hack your way through all manner of storybook beasties. I feel better about things already.
Levelling in Swordigo sees you picking between more health, more mana or stronger attacks, and every now and then you'll get to buy a new item back at the shop, or learn a new spell - a lightning blast, perhaps, or maybe the ability to conjure a fizzy little bomb. They're fun enough in their own right, but they work most appealingly as pace-setters: they feel less like upgrades and more like the simple beats that keep you bouncing down the track from one 2D environment to the next.
There are dungeons filled with spike pits, swinging blades and bats, and there are nods to Zelda absolutely everywhere you look - in the hero's green tunic, in the reference-riddled dialogue, and even in that little ringtone of positive reinforcement that greets you whenever you open a chest or unlock a door.
There's no sense that Swordigo's trying to pass any of these ideas off as its own, of course: this is just an RPG about RPGs, a game built on established traditions and rituals. Its inane story and placeholder characters should damage the whole undertaking, but, for my money, they actually go some way to making it feel even purer. There's nothing here that isn't tried and tested and warmly inviting. There's nothing here that won't make you happy when you recognise it.
Controls rely on virtual buttons that perform their job a little better than usual, and the only buzzkills are a tendency for visibility to take a hit when you're indoors in the gloom and murk, and the odd boss encounter that lasts longer than it should, delivering the occasional cheap death along the way. Other than that, this is the closest to a warm bubble bath that iOS games can deliver. Turn off your brain, turn on the radio (4, please; hopefully Justin Webb will be on), fire up Swordigo and relax.
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