Swarm Review

By Darryl Kaye on April 14, 2011

HotHead Games are still relatively new to the downloadable games scene, with their first major independent release being DeathSpank last year. They've got straight back into the game though, releasing Swarm as their second title. It's a puzzle/platforming game where you control a bunch of up to fifty rather expendable little creatures called Swarmites, and it's actually rather quirky.

The story is a rather odd one. A large blue blob lands on a war-torn planet, and mutates into a rather huge being which is thereafter known as "Momma". She then breeds little Swarmites to help collect pieces of DNA in order to help save their race, and get off this terrible planet. There are only two real cutscenes in the entire game though, at the beginning and at the end, so if the story passes you by, don't be surprised. The only thing you'll probably notice is how weird it is.

There are numerous levels to go through, and at the start of each one "Momma" drops down fifty swarmites. It's then your job to guide them through the level, picking up pieces of DNA as they progress. You control all of them as a collective, but they all have minds of their own. What this means, is that if you walk them directly at an object and tell them to continue walking, they will find their own way around it. It's a fun little system and it's great seeing your little guys running around on the screen.

To help you try and keep a handle on the mayhem, you're allowed to control the Swarm's dispersion by telling them to either huddle or separate. You'll almost never tell them to disperse though, so it's slightly weird that they included this option - huddling benefits you the most, and it also allows you to launch speed boosts. The only time you'll probably ever use the disperse option, is in conjunction with the speed boost, as this then allows your swarmites to attack things.

There are also a few little bugs sometimes, as the Swarm will always tries to maintain a set distance from the "central" point. What this means, is that whenever you walk around, they will always be a set distance away from each other. However, sometimes if some of the swarmites get separated by being pushed out forcefully, they will continue to act as if they are in the "default" formation, not realising that they are in fact way outside of the pack. They don't instantly try to get back inside and despite you having moves to influence their behaviour, these don't actually help. Instead, if you huddle, they will bunch in, but still be well outside the pack.

It's not a massive issue though for the most part, as the whole concept behind Swarm is that your swarmites are fully expendable. Collecting DNA is of the utmost importance, as is maintaining your collection chain. Whenever you pick up a piece of DNA, it will accumulate in your overall score, but your multiplier will also increase. In order to keep your multiplier going, to need to be consistently be picking up pieces of DNA, so sometimes there may be a bit of collateral damage. It's quite difficult to get into this mindset really, because you need the swarmites, but you also don't need them. Your score multiplier is the most important thing, as if you don't obtain a certain score, the next level won't unlock. You can also get new swarmites if you get a checkpoint, so it's not the end of the word if almost all of them fall into a ravine.Often, the death sequences are quite humourous, and because you have so many, it's not that big of a deal - especially as when they die it's usually your fault. When it becomes annoying, is when you lose all your swarmites through things which seem unjust, which happens a lot on the later levels. You'll get enemies that chase you, and you'll also relentlessly get struck by lightning - it takes the fun out of the experience a bit, and makes it more pressure based. Given how relaxing and enjoyable the game is up until that point, it felt like a bit of a shame. There are also ill-conceived "platforming" elements in there, like getting your swarmites to push spheres into specific locations. It's a good idea in theory, but the implementation wasn't the best.

The game's presentation is rather fitting. The swarmites themselves are rather gormless beings, completely oblivious to everything that's going on, not even aware of the impending doom they face. Whoever designed them probably had a lot of fun, even if they are rather simple looking. The levels are also rather interesting to play through, it's just a shame there aren't more of them.

Aside from the other gripes with the game, one of the biggest ones probably comes with its length. There are only ten main levels, with two boss fights, and if you manage to attain the correct score first-time, every time, the game probably won't last you very long at all. Most people probably won't do that, so will be forced to go back and do levels again, increasing game time, but it would have been nicer if there were more unique puzzles to experience. The bosses themselves aren't all that special either, with the last boss being especially bland. It copies a gameplay element from the previous level and just repeats its numerous times.

Final Thoughts

Swarm has a rather fun little premise, and the oblivious nature of the swarmites makes them quite endearing in a weird sort of way. However, the game loses some of its magic towards the end, and it's a real shame. There was more they could have done to Swarm without taking the fun away, but in the end, we're left with a game that loses its sheen and at the same time, also feels rather short. Swarm is a fantastic concept, and is a load of fun to play, but only up to a certain point.

Fantastic concept.
Some of the death scenes are rather comical.
Getting a huge score is very satisfying.
Loses its magic towards the end.
Some of the ways to die become rather frustrating.
Far too short of an experience.
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