The Swapper has been around for a while on PC, Wii U, and PS4, but the recently released Xbox One version was my first foray in to the sci-fi puzzle platformer from Facepalm Games. I wasn’t sure what to expect outside of using the titular swapper gun to create clones and solve puzzles, yet, in the end, that about summed it up. Not to discredit the game, as it’s good at what it set out to do, but what I saw is definitely what I got.
As an unnamed scientist, you crash land on a mysterious space station where rocks talk and every way out is conveniently locked until you’ve collected enough orbs to pass through them. It’s a bit of a Metroidvania, since you’re free to backtrack through the map, open fast-travel portals, and collect missing orbs. That’s where the similarities end, though. Instead of battling aliens and rolling around on the floor, you’ll spend a majority of your time solving puzzles, unlocking doors, and going ever deeper in to.. wherever it is that you are.
“Each of the puzzle rooms are well crafted in their solutions, but their similarities were obvious and caused the game to became a little stagnant.”
You’ll obtain the swapper gun early on, which creates up to 4 clones that mimic the player move-for-move. This serves as both the game’s puzzle solving foundation and primary method of transportation. With your inability to jump higher than a stack of textbooks, much of the platforming is done by creating clones in unreachable areas and switching bodies by zapping your very own soul in to one of the previously unoccupied husks. This may sound cruel–especially considering that most don’t survive more than a handful of seconds–but it’s puzzling what we deem okay when our own survival is on the line. What’s even more puzzling are the puzzles. Because puzzles.
Solutions in The Swapper use a constant formula that involves making clones and placing them at the right place at the right time. Come across an elevated platform that your normal jump can’t reach? Make a clone and switch places. Need to weigh down a pressure plate in order to open a door? Drop a clone and head in! Each of the puzzle rooms are well crafted in their solutions, but their similarities were obvious and caused the game to became a little stagnant. There’s obstacles that get in the way, like red smoke that prevents you from switching to a clone, or blue smoke that disables your ability to create them, but rather than evolving throughout the course of the game, puzzles just became more elaborate in their solutions. It’s fun, sure, but it didn’t take me anywhere I didn’t already see in the opening moments.
Breaking up the monotony are some rather annoying zero gravity sections, where using the swapper gun propels you in the opposite direction while floating around in space. As interesting as that may sound, it didn’t numb the sting of repetition and wasn’t all that fun to begin with–aimlessly fumbling about in zero gravity until I stumble upon a door isn’t exactly riveting gameplay. The saving grace, though, is the world itself.
For being a relatively short game, exploring The Swapper’s expansive map is just as much a part of the experience as its puzzle solving. One moment I’m shifting gravity and walking along the ceiling of a plant infested biome, and an hour later I’m platforming through areas I’m sure I didn’t have the clearance for–but hey, there’s talking rocks and I’m a great listener. Everything also looks gorgeous to boot.
The developers at Facepalm Games actually modeled everything with clay before digitally inserting them in to the environments. This gives everything a fantastical sci-fi feel that works in tandem with the atmosphere and its dramatic, eerie lighting. There’s also a pretty stellar soundtrack that perfectly set the mood while adventuring through the mostly abandoned space station. While its unique art style worked so well in laying the environmental foundation, unfortunately the same couldn’t be said about the character model. It doesn’t look bad on its own, but once he or she starts moving, the walking animations (especially the back-step moonwalking) are more awkward than anything.
“…rather than evolving throughout the course of the game, puzzles just became more elaborate in their solutions.”
There’s more to the game than beautiful environments and puzzle solving, though. If you’re the exploration type, there’s an interesting story about how the planet went to shit, the controversial experiments that lead to the creation of the swapper gun, and why, exactly, the rocks are talking, and it’s all explained in terminals hidden throughout the game. Pacing isn’t exactly The Swapper’s strong suit, so dangling a carrot in my face by way of an interesting plot was just what I needed to feel satisfied–rather than bored and disappointed.
The Swapper is an interesting, albeit repetitive experience. I would have liked to see more variety in the puzzle solving, but any excuse I had to explore the world around me was a good one. Using clones as lifeless, disposable objects is a thought provoking matter that I didn’t know I cared about until now, and I’m pretty sure I enjoyed reading in to the history of the station and soaking in the atmosphere more than I did solving puzzles after the first hour or two. The controls took some getting used to, especially aiming with the right analog stick while moving, but the lack of combat made that a non-issue. Overall though, it’s a pleasant game that’s sure to please fans of both sci-fi and puzzle platforming.
Recommended for fans of: The Fall, Trine, The Lost Vikings, Three Dead Zed, or puzzle-platformers in general.
*This review is based entirely on the Xbox One version of The Swapper, which is also available on Playstation 4, Wii U, and PC.