Metroidvania. A portmanteau of Metroid and Castlevania, the two games that inspired a subgenre, defined by nonlinear level design and player progression through collectibles. Popularized by independent games like Cave Story and La Mulana, there are now a glut of games being crowdfunded, developed, and digitally distributed in the style of a Metroidvania. The Swapper, by Facepalm Games, is one of them. In The Swapper, you play an unnamed mute protagonist who travels to the Theseus space station in your tin can rocket. You find a gun that lets you create clones of yourself, talk to some rocks, and your adventure begins.
The Swapper has a very unique art style; all of its art assets are modeled with clay. Coupled with some very good lighting effects, the game is striking and visually appealing. A word of warning: this game is much more resource-intensive than most 2D platformers, so toaster users beware. The music is comprised of ambient piano and synth, giving the game a floaty, space opera feel. My only real complaint about the aesthetics is that the player movement animations are lacking. A frame-by-frame style would better serve The Swapper’s stop-motion aesthetic than its use of motion tweens. The story is very interesting as well; without giving too much away, The Swapper touches on themes like the ethics of cloning, the existence of the soul, and the idea of consciousness.
The level design is basic. Branching paths lead to puzzles, with only one path advancing the story. Solving puzzles rewards the player with orbs, which are used to access different areas of Theseus. Teleporters are abundant, preventing lengthy backtracking, which is nice because while the environments of The Swapper are very pretty, there isn’t a lot to do in most rooms and navigating them is difficult due to fall damage. While abnormal in a 2D platformer, fall damage makes sense in the context of the puzzles. Essentially every design aspect of The Swapper serves its puzzles, which are fairly difficult.
The Swapper is a short game, but it feels substantial. As a Metroidvania, it’s a feeble offering, but as a puzzle game it is very strong. It’s very reminiscent of the first Portal in terms of novelty and difficulty. Unfortunately, it is also reminiscent of Portal in length; $15 for a 5 hour game is a hefty price. Some sort of Steamworks integration with a level editor would justify its bloated price, but until then, wait for either a sale or a pay-what-you-want bundle to pick this up. It is definitely worth it.