There used to be a nice restaurant near my house. At every meal, a couple of minutes after the food had been served, the owner's wife would emerge from the kitchen to hover over us. She'd say, "It's delicious?" She was half asking, half insisting. I get the same vibe from Sword & Sworcery.
"TWEET THIS?" the game asks/insists, dozens of times. A message appears after solving a puzzle: "The dark moon reigns and we just woke a Sylvan sprite surrounded by four little round trees in the darkest woods." And a menu slides out: "TWEET THIS?" This feature shall henceforth be known as the Unfollow-matic.
See, it's not enough to have solved the puzzle and awakened the sprite. Simply experiencing a happy turn of events does not, in itself, sate this game's appetite for innocent joy. No, the moment must also be commemorated and celebrated.
I'm not just talking about the misguided Twitter-spam. Tweetability aside, the countless cutesy dialog boxes "Are you feeling that peculiar vibe? It is a time of miracles!" are overbearing enough themselves. After every minor success, yet another pithy scrawl descends on the scene to recap, and thereby diminish, what just happened.
This tic strikes me as especially odd given that last year, Superbrothers published an inspiring manifesto titled Less Talk, More Rock. It made a convincing argument for the beauty of nonverbal communication in games. And indeed, Sword & Sworcery is packed with gorgeous nonverbal flourishes. The trouble is that it won't shut up about them.
Still, I'd be inclined to look past the game's excessive earnestness if it were so wondrous as its trappings imply. Don't get me wrong, I was ready to be swept up in Sword & Sworcery's magic. Each of those delightful touches a deer scampering away into the woods, a boss grappling with you in perfect rhythm to the music seems to hold the promise of something greater.
In this case, however, the details are just that. It's not that they're incoherent. (That wouldn't even be a problem, as indie developers like Cactus and Mark Essen regularly create moving games of great incoherence.) No, all the little pieces in Sword & Sworcery speak to each other. They simply never add up to a larger whole. The spirit of the game doesn't aspire to much beyond a broad sense that adventuring is neat, and hey, joy is super, too.
Maybe that's what The Archetype is getting at when he says, "S:S&S EP does not produce the transcendent experience." It could be that the world's sweet curios are meant to stand on their own, content in their simple pleasures. That's fair. But I also believe it's fair to ask that art at least transcend itself.
Sword & Sworcery does accomplish that feat in one respect, by broadening the idea of what a game can be. I'm not talking about touch controls (somewhat clumsy) or the fact that it's on the iPad (not the first or the last). Rather, this work stands out in its willingness to subdue the goal-oriented aspects of gaming while still embracing the idea of a quest. These are purely formal concerns, though, which leave me a bit cold.
I realise that's an odd thing to say about a game of such exceeding warmth. There's no doubt of the passion and heart that went into the creation of Sword & Sworcery. The artistry is extraordinary. The resulting art is not, not quite. Artistry is important, and I admire it to the fullest extent. In considerations of art, though, I want something more profound. Love, perhaps.
Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP is out now on iPad. A version for iPhone and iPod Touch will be released in April.