Halfway through Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP, I was completely and utterly stuck. After spending an hour wandering back and forth through the small amount of forest and village that was open to me, I realized that I couldn't progress until the moon had changed
in the real world.
This would not happen for several days, so I followed the instructions of a particular in-game character (dubbed a "cheater" by the narrator) and changed the date on my iPad. Instantly, several calendar notifications attacked me, and I fought them off by tapping the "close" button repeatedly. I guess this was part of the game, but it wasn't very fun or awe-inspiring.
If I were particularly patient, I suppose I might have waited several days for the moon to actually change, or I might have played until I stumbled upon Sword & Sworcery’s in-game method to change time for short periods.
Sword & Sworcery seems like one that ought to be played while immersed in its game-world. Its most awe-inspiring moments take place when it allows us to forget about ourselves, our world, our iPad, and our Twitter followers for long enough to take in the wonders that it presents. Danger feels imminent and foreboding, and the animal and plant life seem organic and ethereal. While performing the "Songs of Sworcery" our fingers seem to trigger magical wonders and beautiful music. The story itself is beautiful in its simplicity, and it is so effective because it lingers on implications rather than literalities.
And yet, Sword & Sworcery seems determined to sabotage the experience with its experimental touches, each of which wake me from the game-induced dream state. I am constantly turning my iPad sideways and right-ways in order to fight monsters in repetitive, mechanically uninspired battles.
At one point the narrator insists that "We couldn't tell if the glowing ghost dude was cheering us on or psyching us out or what." It’s funny enough at first read, but it cheapens a genuine experience by glibly informing us how we ought to be reacting to it.
Earlier I mentioned Twitter followers—that’s because the game’s constant (though subtle) encouragements to "tweet this" force me to consider the existence of a whole other group of people, and whether or not it would be all that nice to fill their feeds up with these statements, which were, of course, funny at the time. Should I really send this note to my online friends? I mean, really... you had to be there.
Sword & Sworcery EP could have been somewhat of a life-altering experience, if only we were allowed to invest ourselves in it without the forced irony, the constant winks, the iPad-awareness and the social network anxiety. Still, I marvel at its singular moments of beauty. Even if it's plagued with experimental risks that don't pan out, Sword & Sworcery EP serves as a reminder that if a flawed work is founded on beauty, beauty usually wins out in the end.
Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP was developed and published by Superbrothers and Capybara Games. It is available for the iPad via the iTunes App Store.
Richard Clark is the editor-in-chief of Christ and Pop Culture, where he often writes about video games. He can be reached at deadyetliving at gmail dot com or followed on twitter @deadyetliving.
Watch the trailer for Sword and Sworcery: