The platformer genre has undergone some serious evolutions following the 8bit and 16bit generations of consoles. The current generation of players are no longer content to just march a character from left to right, occasionally navigating around obstacles. The traditional platformer has managed to stick around by increasing the difficulty to ridiculous limits as seen in games like Super Meat Boy and Rayman Origins. But, in order to push the boundaries of this dwindling genre, the traditional mechanics have been commonly meshed with puzzle mechanics giving rise to the Puzzle Platformer genre.
The Swapper is a puzzle platformer with a heavy emphasis on its puzzle mechanics instead the platform mechanics. The puzzles revolve around the swapper, the titular device that can create up to four clones of whoever is holding it, and allow you to “swap” between the created clones. The majority of the games’ puzzles involve getting clones to stand on pressure plates, allowing the player to collect items in order to progress through the rooms of the derelict space station that the majority of the game takes place in. The challenge comes from the clones behaviour. they move in the exact same direction that the player moves in, so keeping them where you need them to be can be tricky.
What little platforming is included in Swapper is mainly just trying to prevent the player from falling to a painful death. The only way to survive many of these falls is to murder your clones so that you are able to survive. When the player jumps off a ledge and begins to fall, a clone needs to be created standing on the ground so the player can swap into them before impact, resulting in the “player” still being alive and an innocent clone hitting the ground and perishing. Seeing one of these clones hit solid ground and die is always shocking. The physics in this game give them a realistic ragdoll effect when they hit the ground and you will be able to see and hear the helmet on their space suit break and watch all of the oxygen drain from their mask.
Swapper manages to create an incredibly creepy and isolating atmosphere through its jaw dropping visuals and complimenting audio. Much of the world in Swapper was modelled in clay and then digitized for use in the game. This unique asset creation method complements the atmosphere; not just the world, but even the character model makes me feel as if it this was ripped right from the mind of H. R. Giger or like it was inspired from the set of Alien.
Like in Alien, the space suit has a flashlight built into the helmet and this provides the primary light source for almost the entire game. When you move your mouse the players head will also move, allowing you to see your surroundings, showing off the incredible lighting effects in the game. Light will reflect off of services giving them a sheen that makes them seem either metallic and clean or organic and wet. The lighting in this game impressed me so much that I would be willing to go as far to say that this is possibly the highlight of the game.
The musical score and sound effects in Swapper are incredibly effective. The creepy music that plays serves to remind you that you are alone, out in space. Swapper is rarely silent, usually something is playing to keep you immersed in the feeling of isolation. The only interaction you have, that breaks the sound of static over the radio, is with the only other survivor on the lonely space station that the game takes place in.
The only other “person” that is alive on the space station serves as the primary antagonist and seems to be afraid of you upon first meeting. This antagonist isn’t the only other living thing on the space station however. You will run past what seem to be harmless rocks but as you progress through the game you will learn that they are called “watchers”. The watchers are a species of incredibly intelligent and telepathic extraterrestrials and are responsible for the deaths of all of the residents of the, now empty, space station. The watchers send messages directly to your brain as you walk past them, these messages will get more and more aggressive as you progress through the world leading up to the “twist” ending that I, and other Caps N’ Coins staff members, were able to predict really early on.
I found the story to be both a high and low point to the game. The story elements surrounding the player were weak and the ending was projected to me really early on making the twist completely ineffective; however, what was effective was everything relating to “The Watchers”. I found myself exploring everywhere on this space station looking for all of the logs left behind by the scientists that previously called it home. Looking for more information about the watchers, what happened to them and the scientists, and looking for the story that was built right into the environment was an incredible draw for me.
The Swapper is incredibly effective at world building but not necessary great at story telling, but the world that is constructed is incredible and full of moral ambiguity. The environments are crafted with incredible detail and brought to life through the incredible lighting effects in the game. The music and sound effects help with the atmosphere, making you feel isolated and I feel that anybody who doesn’t experience this game does themselves a disservice especially those who like a good mystery to solve. The Swapper is one of the greatest puzzle platformers that I have ever had the privilege to play.