As gamers, we spend so much of our time looking after and trying to please “little people”. Whilst it certainly speaks to the god complex within us all, wouldn’t it be nice to play a game where success is measured by keeping just one of your little minions alive to the end of a given level? Even better would be a game where the player is positively encouraged to kill off the vast majority of their followers, just to get a higher score? Obviously Hothead Games share my slightly sick vision. In fact their latest game, Swarm, takes the sacrificing of cute, clueless minions to a whole new, and wholly enjoyable, level.
If you are trying to find a story to this action platformer, keep looking. Swarm is one of those rare games that offers no explanation as to what is going, nor does it offer much by way of explaining what to do. Simply put, a giant space creature, lovingly refered to as “Momma” spews 50 small, cute minions onto a planets surface and charges them with achieving a certain score before they are swallowed up again by Momma at the other end of the level.
Don’t get too attached to the small blue minions, known as Swarmites, because it is likely that you will watch them die, a lot. Controlling this swarm of Swarmites is a matter of moving the whole herd as one slightly disorganized unit. The player can bring them all closer together, or make them spread out with a simple button press. They can all be made to jump, run into things and even climb on top of each other to create a wobbling tower of blue. The objective is to reach the end of the level with at least one Swarmite and a particular score.
Which is easier said than done. As already mentioned, your Swarmites will die a lot, in all manner of different entertaining ways. They will be blown up, burned alive, cut into tiny pieces and even plummet to their doom if the player is not especially careful with their herd. Each level, of which there are 10 plus two boss battles, is a death trap of epic proportions and contains numerous ways for your Swarmites to meet their doom.
Players need to collect items through the levels to reach the required score. Many times this will require manipulating the Swarmites in a particular way, such as stacking them to reach high places, but other times the player will have to make some difficult choices and sacrifice their Swarmites to get the items. Every now and again a spawning point will be found and the player can refresh their ranks. So, carefully making their way through each level is the order of the day.
But it isn’t. To begin with, reaching the required score is fairly easy. But then the game ramps up the difficulty quickly and the player is faced with seemingly impossible scores to reach. It is at this point that the player must throw caution to the wind and put their foot down. By scoring points, the player starts a timed multiplier. Keep scoring and the multiplier goes up, giving access to those impressive looking high scores. Stop scoring and the multiplier will drop and those scores will be forever out of reach. So the player must hurry, get quickly to the next bunch of collectibles and maintain that multiplier at all costs.
But this is where things get really entertaining. The player gets points for each Swarmite that dies, meaning that the multiplier can be maintained with some choice Swarmite sacrificing. This makes the player choose carefully between the well being of their Swarmites and ensuring that at least one reaches the end, and keeping that sweet multiplier going. Tough choices indeed.
Although the number of levels is relatively small, don’t think that the game won’t last long. The levels become more and more difficult to complete with the required number of points, and players will find themselves having to replay levels over and over to get those points. But even once the levels are completed, the player will be encouraged to go back and try for a higher score, with each level having its own leaderboard.
Swarm successfully combines platforming with a certain level of puzzle and strategy gaming into twisted, slightly warped, entertainment. It is not going to be for everyone though. Having to keep retrying levels just to progress may be off-putting. But if you are the kind of player who would be entertained by the thought of sending loads of cute little blue blobs to their doom, Swarm could be the game for you.