For the ever-living forgiveness of Christ, why does every indie game need a gimmick?
Oh, it’s not enough to create an absolutely riveting story and fine-tune every single end of your loose ends, you’ve got to create a control scheme or gameplay mechanic akin to playing Guitar Heros’ Expert + Drum mode with an Atari 2600 controller? Why? What’s the point? It’s just busy work underneath a layer of pretentiousness. At least Crypt of The Necrodancer was in sync to the infectious beat it made.
Anyway, SwapQuest, “the new indie phenomenon”, said nobody ever. Developed and published by Rebusmind, who is, as far I can tell, a one man team from Germany. This is his first major release on console, with a few games on Android that I couldn’t find, and a few flash games… That I couldn’t find. So, already, we are on high hopes and dreams. Maybe he deletes the games that get panned, and if that’s the case, grab SwapQuest while you can if you’re reading this.
You are a prince or princess named Wilbert or Wilma, who are the children of a man who defeated the evil “Horde” several decades prior. But now, the evil is back and your dad is no longer the springy young tyke he once was, and he protects your puny body while you escape. Now you’re on the run, hoping to find the sword that your father once used to end the terrors.
In the tutorial, the game is hesitant to even show you its mechanic, instead it covers it for a while and lets you choose a female or male hero that can only be customized with a class. From there, you’re shown the Gimmick of The Day, you have to create your own path with pieces on the map. And to hurry you up, a purple mist will be chasing you down until you can reach the finish and you have to create a path for your hero to reach the finish with.
Beyond that is a game devoted to efficiency and strategy. You’ve also got to kill monsters for XP, search bushes and chests, and destroy stones for the possibility of money, as well as make sure that there’s enough pieces to create a straight path to the finish. If only it were that easy. You see, you don’t grab the money as soon as you open the chest, it flies out of the area where it was were hidden. Acceptable, but when most of that money flies out of the map, unable to be collected, that’s bad design.
In addition, the path parts containing monsters and chests cannot be moved also. Again, fine in theory, but this basically means you have to create a winding path that not only kills time, time that you need in order to not be sucked into the purple mist, but you have the scour the map looking for pieces that create this path, that may or may not have monsters or chests on them.
Nevertheless, it was manageable. It’s able to engage you just enough to get through but isn’t frustrating enough to turn you away. For the first hour, that is, because that’s where the flow sets in. After a while, you’ll be walking a brisk walking pace collecting gems and XP so you can level up your gear to kill more monsters and gems. It’s the kind of grinding that would make Destiny players froth at the mouth. There’s even mini-games that test your quick-thinking reflexes in order to gain more gems, and so on and so forth.
It becomes a snooze-fest, real quick. It’s not that the gameplay is bad or anything, it’s just obvious that this a mobile game ported to a console. The presentation is so generic in nature that it makes me feel like I’m on Miniclip, despite the upgrade to a console that’s about 800 times more powerful.
I kept trying to prevail to see if there was a point, and I found that point. This game has one of the worst bosses I have ever encountered in a video game. Ghargon is the first boss you’ll come across, a giant purple bug who spits snot and bombs at you. A lethal combo, but should be a straightforward first boss, one that’ll really test my skills right? NOPE.
My first instinct was to create a path to him in order to land hits to his massive body. So, while he was jumping around the arena, all of the corners covered in the thick purple smog, I planned a path to his next possible target. Eventually I was able to get to him in time before he jumped away and started to wail on him, but every single hit I attempted missed. I was baffled at what I could possibly be doing wrong.
After a while, I just figured you had to get in the right direction to whack him in the face, side, or ass, but all of my attacks ended with a miss. For some reason, my hero, child of the man who defeated this evil, was unable to take care of a mutant beetle. I kept trying to prevail and I was close to defeat but then he landed on one of his bombs. And he was stunned, revealing the absurd weakness of the beetle.
Jumping back to my controller, I attempted to race over there, which is difficult when your hero is slower than a sloth riding a Peel P50, and Ghargon is also shooting out snot which halves the already painfully slow speed. But he got back up in seconds and off he flew. But now I had figured out the plan, and I was ready to end this beast.
I was beginning to create a path that not only would reach the boss but would also have a bomb on the path. It’s clear that you have to place a piece underneath where he’s going to land, and to be fair, the window of opportunity you get is large enough for you to place a bomb underneath him. So, now that Ghargon is stunned by our skill, let us slowly crawl over to him and smack him with my iron scepter. And it doesn’t connect.
Ah yes, Rebusmind has some superb logic under his sleeve, for if the path underneath him doesn’t connect to the path that you’re on, you will not be able to attack him. Ah, of course, because if you cannot walk on the path he is underneath, you… Cannot… Attack… Him? Haha, no. No sir, I am not dancing the puppet mans’ dance.
Yes, after an arduous 40 minutes, I did defeat Ghargon but then what’s the point? If this first boss is going to act like a final test near the end of the game, then what’s the next boss going to be? A turtle that one hits your puny body if you can’t outrun it, and you WON’T be able to? SwapQuest wants you to take your time within a time limit, and it’s incredibly stupid.
I’m going to be as blunt as possible, I hated SwapQuest. I hated every moment from the tutorial as your pathetic hero tip-toed to the finish. I hated the clingfilm-thin mechanics, the generic presentation, and I hated the absurdly dull music, which almost sounds like a beat-for-beat remake of the Pokémon Ruby soundtrack. And just like that, the desire I had to continue this journey was gone.
Maybe I’m being too harsh? If this guy is a one man team with passion put into his work, then maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on the guy. But this isn’t the Creator’s Collection. This isn’t a guy creating a game in-between sessions of The Witcher 3, this is a man who was able to place his project onto a huge platform that bought us shots of near-perfection like Oxenfree, Thumper, and Enter The Gungeon. He’s going to be helld to the same standards.
One might point out that they’re not exactly in the same vein as SwapQuest, and that’s true. So, if you want something LIKE SwapQuest but don’t like having a hero that procrastinates more than I do, then I urge you to get the superb Crypt of The Necrodancer or SuperHOT. Even Conga Master is more of an engaging experience than this utterly lifeless slog through these faceless lands.
An unbearable trek through lands that have no value, with a gimmick that stays but doesn't impress.