Sunday, July 15, 2012

Innovative Sound In Games: Superbrothers - Sword & Sworcery EP

Where does one start with a game entitled Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP? Well, maybe with the name itself, which references old favourites (Super Mario Bros) and so pays homage to eight-bit games. "Sword & Sworcery" is a silly riff on the game genre, preparing us to wander an environment gathering clues and slaying beasties in full-on heroic mode. And the addition of "EP"? Well, it's a short game, not long enough to be an LP, and is entwined so brambly to its soundtrack as to confuse expectation almost entirely.

The best place to start is with the Audience Calibration Procedure (above) which, like every other aspect of the promotion of this game, is exactly correct, completely honest, and even includes game hints. The ironic mode may encourage disbelief, but, really, it's all true. So much so that I don't really need to review the game at all; I can simply quote from Superbrothers' own material:

"Our research team here at Superbrothers has been preparing our latest psychosocial audiovisual experiment, a meandering mythopoetic adventure known as Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP. We've also been slowly preparing you (without your awareness) for its imminent arrival.... You are now among the initiated. We will meet again at the appointed time, when both day and night are in balance."

If you want to know more you can watch the following "spoiler-heavy montage", though if you plan on playing in the near future (yes! yes!) I would take the advice of the announcer: "Please, for the love of God, stop this clip now!"

"Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP can be interpreted as a streamlined 21st century re-imagining of the point & click adventure video games of yesteryear. Alternately, because of the primacy of Jim Guthrie's musical score, Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP can be understood as a prog rock concept album you can hang out in."

See what I mean? This review writes itself! Though at this point I must disagree with the genre assignment. The music is far more aligned with casual bedroom electronica and less likely to be mistaken for prog rock. There are some menacing keyboard figures and even a place where Philip Glass makes a (figurative) guest appearance (in the spoiler, above). But have no fear, there are no solos and scarce little posturing. Instead, one gets samples from Zelda and similar games of yore.

I'm not going to say anything about the game-play, except to point out that for some reason it integrates Twittering. If you don't want to annoy your friends I would treat this as completely optional.

The tone throughout gives new meaning to "ironic", being full of arch self-consciousness, anachronism piled on anachronism, and apparently inappropriate tone. Take for example our host (actual name: The Archetype), that cigar-chomping announcer first met in the promo vids. He is voiced in the most casual "hey, I just have a normal voice, not like any announcer you might have heard" method. And yet all of this doesn't get too twee or annoying (well, it didn't for me), because at the heart of it all is, well, a heart. The story might mock the self-sacrifice that comes with heroism, but it is also aware of the heartbreak that results. The game coda is as touching as pixels have ever been.

It's all so freaking Canadian.

The music is truly superb. It alternately underscores and undercuts the emotion of a given scene, always full of surprises, never less than what it needs to be. Sound is an integral part of the game-play. Heck, even Jim Guthrie himself is an integral part of the game-play!

Originally written for the touch interfaces of the iGizmos, Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP is also available on a major operating system near you. On Steam it's priced at a mere €6, which includes the full soundtrack as a bonus download. A bargain at twice the price!

Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP is one of my favourite games ever. (That's the sort of thing you'd expect me to say in the penultimate paragraph.) It manages to be a good challenge, terribly fun, silly, literate, nostalgic, innovative, profound, and a damn fine slice of vinyl, all at once. I wish I had never played it, so I could start RIGHT NOW.

Lucky you.



robin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
robin said...

Actually it's €4 today on Steam. So, really.

Post a Comment