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Swarm! Slam! Rescue! Battle! Ghostbusters!

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

Have you noticed an curious resistance to short, sharp, bite-sized videogames from people who were too young to have experienced them the first time around? It's an interesting phenomenon, but it makes sense.

For gamers whose first experiences of videogames started in the PlayStation and Nintendo 64 era, some express bafflement at the the appeal in the kind of highly abstract, instant video games that existed throughout the 70s, 80s and half of the 90s. They often see little interest in games that lack the kind of depth that they're used to.

And yet for those of us, like myself, who were introduced to games in the late 70s and hungrily consumed all that the classic arcade era produced, and the subsequent home computer boom, this rebirth of ultra-accessible games is hugely exciting. Having been denied these kinds of experiences for so long, the thrill of being able to just get straight into a game without prior explanation is one that has been sorely missed.

So to completely contradict all of that, check out Swarm - a game that has absolutely no intention of being instantly accessible, but one that will win you over anyway.


  • XBLA - 1200 Microsoft Points (£10.20)

Given how many games struggle to give you adequate control over even a single character, imagine the fun involved in trying to steer fifty of the buggers to safety.

The endearingly throwaway plot would have us believe that we're on a mission to collect DNA to ensure the survival of these 'Swarmites', but what appears to matter most is you ability to keep a score multiplier rattling along at rate of knots.

Mastering the movements of these nimble blue blobs with any degree of competence, predictably, takes an enormous amount of patience. On a basic level, you can gather them together with a squeeze of the right trigger or make them disperse with the left, but more sophisticated manoeuvres, such as being able to stack them into a thin column, or pull off a long jump, is a dark art.

Swarm in here innit?

And if its inherent fiddliness hasn't blackened the mood enough, just when you're starting to warm to its wanton originality and charming visuals, Hothead decides to deal out the pain and set the fifth level in the dark. And to make matters worse, reaching the score total that unlocks the next stage requires you to take the kinds of risks that are completely at odds with the already-punishing level design.

As soon as you plunge into the abyss, your score multiplier goes with it - but it's such a regular occurrence, you just have to rely on good old fashioned muscle memory, endless replaying and a smidgen of luck to squeak through.

But after bashing your head against a brick wall for hours, the chances are that you will find the breakthrough, and start enjoying Swarm far more than ever seemed possible early on.

After all the cursing over the bloody-minded mechanics and hideously exacting level design, Swarm starts to become hugely satisfying. Suddenly you're replaying the old levels, seeking out the remaining DNA, chasing high scores, and wondering what all the fuss was about.

Sometimes it pays to do things differently, even if you risk driving your audience slightly insane in the process.


Swarm's first 15 minutes.