At this year's PAX East I was able to get my hands on a demo for Swarm, the new title from Hothead Games (who brought us the hilarious DeathSpank series). From what I played in that five-minute demo I got lots of silly gore, cute little creatures and a good amount of RTS-styled gameplay. Playing the full version of Swarm I found the exact same thing over and over again. In this case that's not a bad thing.
Swarm features twelve levels (ten regular, two boss battles) of side-scrolling real-time strategy in the same vein as both Lemmings and Overlord, only with strange blue naked creatures and tons of bluish blood filling the levels. Throughout the game you must collect orbs and DNA strands using the Swarmites in order to unlock levels and get access to the bosses. By performing tasks such as speed runs and stacking players will be able to raise their score and add to the multiplier bonus. Of course with great tasks and battles comes massive sacrifice, and this is where the real fun begins in the game.
Throughout the game you must sacrifice some of your Swarmites to gain points, orbs and massive bonuses. Players will be called upon in Swarm to blast, set afire, decapitate, penetrate, slice, dice, make julienne fries, blow up and other nasty fun stuff that will keep those little bastards dying in very silly manners. However if you lose all of your Swarmites you will be sent back to the most recent checkpoint, thereby losing all of the points you had earned before then. Fortunately there are "nests" of Swarmites in various parts of each level that will bring you back all (or at least some) of your army. This comes in handy when it's time to gather your Swarmites on the numbered buttons, where you need a certain number of Swarmites to open up bonus goodies.
Controlling the game has its pros and cons, with the pros being that it's fairly easy to gather your Swarmites and attack your foes and inanimate objects for points and orbs. Jumping has its moments, though I couldn't help but notice a split-second lag between the button-pressing and the action taking place (with the end result sometimes involving all of my little buggers dying in a fiery death). Then again this game is all about strategy, and timing is one of the key elements to a good plan of action. One of the hardest things I've found to do in this game is make a Swarmite Stack to grab hold of higher objects or knock down explosive boxes. I once spent four minutes trying to grab hold of one of the DNA strands high above the rafters, only to have my Swarmites plummet to their untimely (but still funny) death. It irked me every time I had to face a scenario like this, though not enough to make me put down the controller. Having a very good how-to guide in the game to access anytime was also a plus, as there's a lot you can do and very little time to remember it all.
While the gameplay is similar throughout the levels, how one must tackle them is not. Sometimes you'll have to use the power of speed to earn a high score, whereas other levels will have you just destroying things and killing off more Swarmites to gain more points. As always the levels get tougher as they progress, but the one level that ticked me off the most in regards to difficulty was the third one (better known as Bash Derby). I shit you not: it took me two weeks to beat that level, as I needed to use speed, agility and force to earn the necessary amount of points needed, all while at the same time keep my multiplier growing as the level progressed and at least one of my Swarmites alive for the majority of the level. There was a moment where I had gathered roughly 300,000 points, but because I lost all my Swarmites I was pushed back to the checkpoint and was down to 32,000 points again. Believe me when I say that Level Three will have you pulling your hair out. I won't say much about the two boss levels, other than that they'll require every strategic jump and bonk to defeat them. They'll be tough to beat, but it won't leave you feeling frustrated.
Swarm may contain only twelve levels, but the time you spend in them will be quite lengthy. You will find it difficult to beat each level in one run, and it's finding the right tactics that make Swarm a long, tough game to beat. If you manage to beat the game, however, you can always return to the levels and kill your Swarmites to earn some cool-looking Death Medals that you can show off to your friends. Those looking for any sort of multiplayer aspect, however, need look elsewhere.
- Many deaths equal many laughs
- An excellent amount of strategy gaming
- Great cartoonish graphics
- Bash Derby!!!
- Making a Swarmite Stack is easier said than done
- Lack of any sort of multiplayer support
Swarm is one hell of a guilty pleasure game. You might find yourself just offing as many of these little freaks as possible to earn those Medals, and that just makes up half of the fun. (The Y-button shenanigans that happen in the Main Menu will help players waste loads of time.) The other half you'll find within the strategic elements of the game, along with the in-your-face goofiness that bring out much heavy replay value in this title. Cross your fingers that a sequel will happen (or at the very least some DLC levels), as the world of Swarm is worth revisiting over and over again.
FINAL GRADE: 8.7 (out of 10)