The thing about games with a focus on puzzles is that the experience tends to feel pretty one-sided. Of course, puzzle games have no obligation to be anything else, but The Swapper finds a happy medium between challenging puzzles and effective yet unobtrusive narrative.
That storytelling thread becomes dark and complex, but it doesn’t go too far. The main character is a rescuer trying to find the remaining crew members from a space station called Theseus, aboard which there are rocks with cognitive thought and theories on reality. These unknown creatures also have the ability to swap with other sentient being; here lies the story’s catalyst, as these rocks began swapping with the human travelers. Effectively, a box of rocks becomes representative of the idea that intelligence can come from anywhere in the universe. The concept of life, death, and reason also play hefty roles, especially considering the close relationship with cloning. The player is presented with two sides of the situation in an almost jurisdictional way, via Memory Logs from the crew and voices from rocks scattered throughout the space station. Equally significant, especially later on in the narrative, is the presence of an Id, Ego, and Superego (Freudian concepts) within the rocks’ thoughts. However, the ending doesn’t exactly capitalize on these intriguing undertones and leaves much to be desired, more hinting at a focus for a sequel than synthesizing all that Curve Digital deemed relevant here and now.
The game itself is rather simple in its execution, but the map as well as the included puzzles are what make the game challenging. The left trigger buttons are used to create clones and the right trigger buttons are for switching bodies with those clones. Using these skills, the player must solve puzzles in order to collect orbs that are used for opening up new areas. The only way to physically grab the orbs is to be in control of the clone that’s touching it. What makes the puzzles in The Swapper even more challenging is the presence of lights that inhibit player abilities: the red light halts swapping, blue lights halt cloning, and purple lights reject both. Solving puzzles obtains orbs used to unlock different sections of the map in order to progress the story.
One potential issue that the developers handled well is backtracking. Rendering obsolete any need to spend time running around this rather large map, the station is filled with teleporters that allow easy transport to any other discovered transporter.
I can’t speak for puzzle enthusiasts, but there were a fair few puzzles that I had trouble overcoming. To be completely fair, puzzle games have always been the hardest genre for me: I either get them or I don’t, and when I don’t, I either toss my controller to my other couch or turn off my console and try later. What this game so right for my type of play is not requiring all puzzles to be completed in order to finish the game. Puzzle-illiterate gamers like me can enjoy the game without destroying household furniture.
The game itself doesn’t last too long. Even with my hindered abilities to navigate the game’s puzzles, I was able to finish in a little over two hours of total game time. There were, of course, a lot of profanity-laced moments where I didn’t do anything but stare at the screen; skilled players will likely finish the game much quicker. There really isn’t too much variance in gameplay apart from the zero gravity segments that change how the player uses the swapper gun. The Swapper doesn’t offer much in terms of variety, but it also doesn’t require a lot of time to complete the game’s storyline, so the lack of gameplay options doesn’t hold it back. What that narrow focus does limit, however, is replayability: unless players intend on shooting for the game’s ten trophies or absolutely love digging into the philosophical concepts behind The Swapper, there’s not much past the initial offer.
The Swapper brings a great deal of ideas to the table, impressing with complex notions of humanity, what souls really are, and what it means to be a living being. It also has a lot of puzzles, and though the game plays cleanly, there’s not much else to be had. That’s not to say that what The Swapper delivers is bad—not in the slightest—but this game is really meant for puzzle enthusiasts. Though the game looks like Dead Space-meets-old-school-Castlevania, the game’s only focus is solving puzzles in order to progress the narrative. The Swapper isn’t meant solely for puzzle enthusiasts, though–Curve Digital saw to allow some wiggle room for players like me who have trouble wrapping minds around complicated puzzles. But the price tag of $20 is good reason to consider whether your gaming tastes align with this commendable creation.