Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.
I wrote the other day that Grim Fandango proved to be a metaphor for the decline from wider relevancy of the point and click adventure game. Well, Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP is a metaphor for how those games – and others of the era – have mutated in our memory to become something far more than they were.
A beautifully, cryptic, unpredictable and occasionally smug blend of puzzles, action and sideways storytelling, it seems absurd now that this was a significant iPhone/Pad hit back at release, given the dispiriting state of the App Store nowadays. S&S oozes mystery, implication and dense mythology from every pore, and it does it with the bare minimum of words – sometimes with none at all.
To a lifelong ‘gamer’ it is steeped in heritage, foggy memories of and artistic feint towards worlds and battles of the past. To someone newer to games, it arrives fully-formed, overflowing with self-confidence and switching at speed between a certain forlorn earnestness and an arch why-take-anything-seriously. It is this latter which keeps me more in the realm of admiration than love – as though the game is saying “I’m so much smarter than you that I can mock you for playing me.” It’s not quite vicious enough to deter me, but its faux-stoner languidness occasionally came close.
It is a fragile house of cards, is S&S. A little more irony here or too much exposition there and the feeling of being in just one part of an old and ancient world would have collapsed. Fortunately, as well as avoiding major missteps (the built-in tweet function excepted), it is held together primarily by the sheer force of its aesthetic – the minimalist yet precision-beautiful art, the magical and monstrous soundtrack, the overwhelming sense of menace and danger when its key enemies appear.
The PC port was fine, though lacked the mobile’s version ability to combine form and function. A small, physical window to another place. A place of wonder and worry, not of answers and easy victory. Imagine this being a mobile hit today. If only.