The very first time I read the title “Sword & Sworcery”, I started twitching. My maiden name is Sword, and you might find it surprising how many ways people can butcher such a utilitarian word. The most common was, “S-whirr-ed”, but was occasionally accompanied with, “S-whor-ed”, and let’s not forget “S-whar-ed”. Getting past the urge to punch someone in the face, I thought it was a cute play on s-words.
Sword & Sworcery is the lovechild of Superbrothers and Jim Guthrie, mixed in with some artsy nostalgia. As a point-and-click adventure game, it assures us old timers retro isn’t dead. With this game, and Double Fine’s newest unnamed addition to the adventure game genre, we can be rest assured knowing our delicate psyches will thrive.
In Sword & Sworcery, there is only one word to describe the towering vistas, and abundant fauna that lies therein: lush. Every inch of your screen will softly massage your optic nerve with its verdant palette.
Everything is pixelated. I have long held a fascination with pixel art; particularly, 8-bit pixel art. I love art simplified – cubism, impressionism, abstract. I love looking at something and finding all the layers that make up the piece. I love being able to look, or produce, something that has a different meaning for every spectator. I also love video games, so it makes sense that these two art forms cross within my varied interests. It is the nostalgia of it, harkening back to the pinnacle of Atari.
I like using imagination as a form of art style. It’s why I typically enjoy books more so than movies. There are nuances a writer can pen that a cinematographer cannot film. It’s also why I normally don’t rate a game solely on its graphics. They are nice to look at, and it certainly is amazing how technology has advanced; but if it lacks vivacity at its best, it is only a husk.
Sword & Sworcery has all of this, and more. Next to its stunning visuals, it also has a magnificent soundtrack. Guthrie tells his own story within the music; one in which the narrative and the imagery could not hope to convey. I have written about this before, and I will say it again: without a competent score to reach your audience, your game isn’t going to be nearly as memorable.
What I found entirely thrilling was the contrast of the visuals with modern sound effects. When your pixelated boots splash through water, you hear an actual boot splashing through the water. It adds a level of realism to the game that was unexpected. It was as if this is a real world.
Speaking of realism, it is also interesting of note that the races of the characters, and the setting, are all real. The main character is a Scythian. She is on a woeful errand near the Caucasus Mountains, to ascend the top of Mingi Taw in order to defeat the Gogolithic Mass. She is helped by a dark-haired woman who tends sheep known as The Girl; Logfella, a woodsman whose only aspiration in life is to chop wood; and a mysteriously talkative dog, known as Dogfella. The Scythian is helped along in her quest by an unknown force: a rather dashing fellow in a suit, known as The Archetype.
The game itself is broken up into sessions, and the narrative is written in archaic “tweets” that you can actually tweet. Its tongue in cheek humor is a refreshing departure from the overly dramatic.
But Sword & Sworcery does have drama. The fighting is simplistic: you can only block or stab with your sword. Timing is everything, but the rush of adrenaline when you land a blow, or successfully block is addicting. The fighting to adventuring ratio isn’t 1:1, and I very much appreciate that. Too often in games fighting is only used as a way to level up. I think this method is detracting from what fighting should be – a way to express the dire circumstances presented to you. Too often we in games understand death is inevitable; many times inevitable. And we grow immune to its finality. I think it illustrates a much finer point when we fear a confrontation. Not because of its level of difficulty, but because of the fear of the unknown. Every second counts, and you really have no gauge as to how adversarial your opponent is. It is not a detriment, I assure you.
All of these elements mesh together, forming some sort of surreal experience; best when played with headphones on. So enraptured was I with the game, that when the ending came, it was an emotional experience. Despite the main character not having a proper name, or an entire back story, I still felt she was real. And she is: she is me. The fluidity in which I was able to place myself in the Scythian’s shoes takes a careful pen to hold. It is, perhaps, writing and pacing at one of its best.
“Scythians hate rainbows”