Console: Wii U
Start Date: September 17, 2015
End Date: January 12, 2016
The Swapper is a 2D indie platformer with dark, semi-realistic graphics and plot that involves an astronaut becoming stranded on an isolated planet. In that sense, aesthetically and thematically, it’s very similar to a game I played last year called The Fall.
That was all I could think of when I first dipped my toe into The Swapper last fall, but that comparison quickly faded away once I got a little bit deeper in, because the two games could not be more different. Where The Fall was essentially a graphical adventure game with light combat elements, The Swapper is a straight-up puzzle platformer.
Your main tool here is a “Swapper gun” which allows you to (a) create up to four clones of yourself, and (b) switch places with any of those clones, if you can get them in your line of fire. You are tasked with using these abilities to collect a bunch of orbs scattered around the game world, so you can use them to fix computers and access new areas. The orbs are each in their own little individual puzzle rooms, protected by environmental hazards, as well as security lights which block your Swapper gun in varying ways (blue lights prevent cloning, red lights prevent swapping, etc).
I’ve avoided using the “P” word so far, but I will now: This game is a lot like Portal. In spite of the 2D gameplay, I haven’t played anything since Portal 2 that reminded me of Portal this much. That’s a good thing! The individual puzzles offer just the right mixture of difficulty and cleverness. They’re the kind of puzzles that seem completely impossible at first, but then after you experiment a bit and piece it all together, you feel like a goddamn genius. And the few times I caved and checked online FAQs for solutions, my reaction was always “Oh duh!!!” instead of “They expected me to think of that??”
Aside from the puzzles themselves, the Swapper gun is also used to traverse the environments between puzzles, and that was one of my favorite aspects of the game. In addition to reaching far-away platforms, the Swapper gun can also be used to circumvent the game’s unforgiving falling damage. There is nothing more exhilarating than falling a great distance, then just as you’re about to go SPLAT – zapping a clone safely on the ground and quickly switching into that clone’s body. Then, from a safe distance, you can watch as the character you just were one second ago falls to his bone-crunching death. IT’S SO MUCH FUN!!!
I am also happy that, like The Fall, this game went for a realistic approach graphically, rather than the stylistic or cartoonish style that these types of games often have. The environments are gorgeous, creepy, and completely immersive, effectively making the player feel isolated and awestruck.
The story is a bit impenetrable, in the same way stuff like 2001 can be impenetrable unless you’re paying very, very close attention. The narrative presents itself partially through visual context clues, but mainly through reading the collectible log entries you find along the way. I will admit to sometimes reading too quickly because I was always eager to get to the next puzzle, but even after beating the game I only partially understand this surprisingly dense science fiction plot. It sure seems cool, though!
If you’re a fan of puzzles in general, or Portal specifically, then I have no doubt you’ll enjoy The Swapper. It’s a little bit pricey ($20 on the Wii U eShop, or $15 on Steam), but for that price you’ll get 5 or 6 hours of really fantastic gameplay.
Metroid: Zero Mission