The Swapper is a game that plays with some very intriguing ideas. At its core, the game is a relatively simple side-scrolling puzzle game, but a highly uncommon aesthetic style, deceptively rich story and some very clever use of mechanics helps to keep it engaging from beginning to end.
The premise of The Swapper is simple, you begin the game to find yourself stranded on a mysterious location somewhere in the far reaches of space, and must use a futuristic device, the titular “swapper,” to work your way around the environment and gradually unveil information about your predicament. The swapper is a device with two functions, it allows you to create clones of yourself anywhere in direct line of sight, and allows you to place your consciousness inside the body of those clones. Each clone will mimic your actions as precisely as possible, often used to press multiple switches in unison or reach locations much too far for you to jump. You can only create a small number of clones at one time, but clones can be killed to replenish this number. The death of a clone has no negative impact on you whatsoever, so long as the one you are currently in control of is safe.
As you progress through the game, puzzles will become more complex by the inclusion of a few new elements that alter the usage of your swapper, such as light that limits the usage of the device, or panels that reverse gravity for whichever clone happens to touch them. The beginning of the game gave slight concern that completion would be easy, but as more of these new gameplay elements were introduced, I found myself spending more time pondering over tricky puzzles, getting stuck on a small number for a short time, though never quite enough to grow frustrated.
The story of the game is intricately tied in to the gameplay mechanics unique to The Swapper, with the theme of consciousness and what specifically it is being very openly discussed. It is an interesting and unusually philosophical topic for a game to intertwine so deeply into its mechanics, but the plot remains fairly stunted and mainly offers a few small ideas rather than exploring the questions it poses in any larger detail. Beyond the intriguing topic, the storytelling is fairly stilted, with a very limited cast and not a great deal of time dedicated to narrative and exposition, though there is some interesting delivery of plot that may be considered spoilers to discuss in any more depth.
The very thick atmosphere of the game is largely to credit for any engagement players may have in the story, and the atmosphere is very much accredited to the game’s aesthetics. Rather than the typical 3D rendering, or slightly less common 2D illustrative visual style most games use, The Swapper features a graphical style entirely rendered in clay and similar tools most commonly used in stop motion animation. Not only does this departure from common media give a very refreshing and distinctive styling to the game, it does a wonderful job of adding physicality to the environments that may not have otherwise been capable for a small budget indie game.
The ship, the vast majority of the game takes place on, feels decayed and intensely industrial, but always crowded with detail. There is a small amount of variation to the designs, but what litter there is, offers a drastic changes to aesthetic whilst always keeping some solitary almost bleak atmosphere that permeates the game. At the very beginning I found myself expecting an experience much more akin to horror, and though there are certainly horror influences present, the majority of the game took on a strangely relaxing and hushed tone, possibly due to the way in which the player is allowed to leisurely explore the ship and is rarely pressured to complete segments in a rushed or panicked manner.
The Swapper is over quickly, but ends at a time feeling very appropriate. It offers a unique mechanic and impresses with a unique visual style unlike anything we’ve seen in a long time, all the while delivering an intriguing story that may stick with those more inclined to ponder the philosophical. A beautifully crafted game, the largest draw for me is the visual design, which should be studied by anybody who would like to see developers explore more ways of displaying visuals to their players. As a puzzle fan I found myself satisfied, though I would have liked a more consistent challenge, and as a sci-fi fan, I found myself engaged in the story more than I had expected.
- Replay Value