THE SWAPPER / Facepalm Games / PC
A dark-tinged indie puzzle-platformer with a novel gameplay twist and Philosophical Pretensions that doesn't suck? From a garage outfit named Facepalm Games? Is such a thing even possible?
It turns out that yes, such a thing is possible. But if you choose to attempt it yourself, please don't name your company after an Internet meme. You've made a good game, now it's time to pull up your pants and sit at the grown-up table.
Anyway. The Swapper's Platformer Tweest is that you use clones to stand on switches and etc. This idea has been done before, but there hasn't been a good iteration of it that I can think of for a few years or so now, and the way it's handled here is somewhat novel. You can make up to four clones at a time with a beam, but the beam only goes a certain distance and doesn't go through walls. You can also swap bodies with any clone that you can reach with the beam. For some reason, time also conveniently slows down to a crawl when you're aiming the beam, so this allows you to do "clone jumps" up and down long shafts and such, where you hop from body to body and let the hapless clone you just inhabited fall to its gruesome death.
"Clone jumps" really turn out to be the highlight of gameplay, they're satisfying in a similar way to Bionic Commando's grapple or a Spider-Man web, just with the swinging bit cut out. But the puzzles stand up on their own too. Complicating your progress are a series of colored lights that have different effects on your clone beam -- some cockblock it entirely, some allow you to make clones in the light but not swap to them, etc. Puzzles often involve getting your primary into a position where he can move without actually going anywhere, making the other clones you've created move instead. About halfway through the game, just as you're coming to grips with all this, zero-gravity environments are also thrown into the mix to complicate things up a bit.
The aesthetic direction was definitely consciously going for a "Super Metroid without enemies or guns" thing. You spend the whole of the game trying to escape a space station that looks like a Zebes recreation put together with tin cans and bits salvaged from Rapture. The map screen is also a dead ringer for Super Metroid, just without the neat sound effects. I'm told the atmosphere is also very Dead Spacey, though I haven't actually played any of those yet, so I'll have to take people's word for it. There's no enemies, however, the whole of the game is simply navigating your way through environmental puzzles, collecting these glowy orbs needed to unlock hatches that are always conveniently blocking your forward progress.
If you read about on the Internet, you'll see a number of people insisting that the game has Deep Philosophical Undertones about the nature of life and the implications of you giddily creating and killing off thousands of clones on your way out of the station and etc. Wisely, the game actually keeps this stuff very vague and to an absolute bare minimum in the background, leaving all that for goof hipsters to post wall-of-text "interpretations" on a forum where maybe 4 or 5 other goof hipsters will read it. I'll say this much about the Potential Wankery aspect -- as with most games of this nature, there's little punch to any message the game wants to deliver when the player really has no agency in terms of moral choice. You have no choice BUT to kill thousands of clones, it's either that or turn the game off. Or not buy it in the first place, you think Facepalm would prefer that instead? Personally, the game actually frequently cracked me up as I was picturing the peppy Brinstar music playing while I jumped down long elevator shafts and doomed clones rained down all around me. Maybe I'm just a sociopath, I dunno. Anyway, you're free to totally ignore the "message" and just enjoy the game for its puzzles.
The one place where the game disappointed was in the final reaches. Up to that point, getting through an area required collecting, say, 5 orbs out of 7 available or so. That meant if one or two particular puzzles left you baffled, you could just ignore them, do the other ones and keep trucking. Towards the end you hit a wall where you need a huge amount of orbs to open a door, however, and the immediate area doesn't have nearly enough. So not only are you forced to tediously truck back the whole length of the game, you're stuck doing all the puzzles you didn't want to do before back-to-back. Honestly, the game ran me off at this point, but I did watch the ending on Youtube. I felt it all wrapped up pretty well, but I'm not sure the conclusion was really worth that final bit of trudgery the game asks of you.
That aside, I still do feel the game is worth checking out, as it's rock solid in all other aspects and the puzzles are consistenty very good. Big fans of Metroid may get the tinglies from it too, despite the major differences in gameplay.
* Gameplay Video