Developer Hothead Games is known for crafting quirky titles that deliver good laughs and satisfying gameplay. The latest endeavor by the indie developer, Swarm, covers both fronts, once again offering a fun title that will have gamers smiling throughout its entirety. Swarm isn't the most varied package available on the download market, but its goofy charm is sure to please most gamers who give it a chance.
The plot in Swarm is very thin and neither helps nor hinders the game—it's simply there to give this download a loose narrative. A giant blue creature known as Momma lands on a crumbling planet and releases 50 blue creatures called Swarmites from its tentacle. It's up to these little voyagers to explore the land and collect bits and strands of DNA for Momma.
It shouldn't take you too long to realize that the story in Swarm is merely a backdrop for the Swarmites, which are the true stars here. You control all 50 Swarmites collectively, and it is your job to guide them through the planet, collecting DNA and increasing your high score as you progress. Every bit of DNA you collect boosts your score and increases your multiplier meter. Once you fill this meter, your multiplier goes up by two, three, and so on, increasing your total points exponentially. Once the meter runs out, your score is adjusted and you must refill the meter as you continue through the stage.
Keeping your meter from emptying out and resetting is key to scoring major points. By continuously collecting DNA, you can keep the meter going and subsequently increase it. What makes Swarm so much fun is that you don't need to resort solely to collecting DNA to increase your meter. You'll have to repeatedly sacrifice Swarmites throughout your adventure if you want to rack up big combos. You start each level with 50 Swarmites, and you'll have to send them flying off ledges, thrust them into explosive barrels, launch them into electric fields, and lead them into spiky traps in order to raise your score significantly.
There are stations throughout the levels that replenish your pack, so if you're running low on Swarmites, reaching one of these fully replenishes the swarm or, at the very least, gives you a few more creatures to help you out. As long as a single Swarmite makes it to the end of the level, where Momma is waiting, you'll clear the stage. Unlocking new levels requires you to accrue a specific number of points, and this is where the game gets challenging. You may find yourself repeatedly playing through the same level just so you can achieve the minimum to progress. And while you're likely to get frustrated after playing through the same stage over and over again, there's an odd addictiveness to the game that keeps you going back for more.
Part of that addictiveness is caused by the swarm itself. The little blue Swarmites are completely stupid, and they have a ridiculous charm to them that makes you want to see them meet their demise. Seeing them plummet down pitfalls, explode, catapult into the screen, diced into pieces, catch on fire, and suffer serious impalement is strangely satisfying and totally hilarious. Many times during my playthrough of the game I found myself using the camera's zoom function just to watch the Swarmites' expressions and mannerisms as they perished. I literally had a goofy grin on my face while I played the game, even during the most frustrating moments (and believe me, there were plenty).
Like the Swarmites themselves, Swarm has a charming look to it. Nothing is highly detailed, and the whole game is overly polygonal, but this design choice fits the game well. Bright explosions decorate fiery levels, darkness make it purposely difficult to navigate through narrow paths, and weird-looking alien monsters threaten the Swarmites' livelihood. The sound is equally plain, consisting of explosive pops and squishy noises. And the soundtrack, though repetitive, also warrants a chuckle due to its nonsensical beat.
Swarm will keep most players busy for a handful of hours, but many gamers will return after they've completed the main campaign to collect the hard-to-reach DNA strands in each level, set new high scores, and, well, see the Swarmites die over and over again. The game does get a bit repetitive after a couple of hours, but it is still completely rewarding playing through old levels and seeing how high you can set your multiplier. Additionally, there are Death Medals that you can earn based on the death toll and manner in which the Swarmites die, and collecting these gives you more reason to kill the dimwitted little critters.
Swarm is the type of game that caters to gamers with strange tastes. The game is much more suited for an indie fan as opposed to an FPS loyalist, but the folks over at Hothead have once again provided an enjoyable game that's both enthralling and humorous. At $15, the asking price is a little steep, but gamers who enjoy having a good chuckle while playing video games are bound to enjoy Swarm for quite some time.