The Swapper made me sit back and think about my gaming experience in its entirety when I was finished with the single player mode. Only one other game this year has done that, and that game was Bioshock: Infinite. It wasn’t just the story that I mulled over in my head, but the gameplay, the design, the art and everything else that encompassed my experience. Putting The Swapper in the same realm as Bioshock is a high form of praise for me, and it’s rightfully deserved. For a puzzle game made by a couple of Finnish students as a side project, The Swapper oozes passion and originality that you just don’t see very often in any form of media.
The Swapper starts off unassumingly enough as the doldrums of space lull you into what feels like the beginning of an episode of Star Trek: TNG. You watch as your character is ejected in an escape pod, and they appear quite unhappy to be in such a predicament. But not all is lost, once your pod lands the game eases you into the world with some basic movement controls to help you get started. That’s about the last time things in The Swapper stay basic. Soon enough you find The Swapper, a device that has the ability to replicate the user and produce a clone- four clones, in fact. The clones move in synchronized movements with the player, including jumping or running. Your clones can die because of the environment, or you can reabsorb them by touching them, and that’s just the start of the weirdness.
Clones have one specific purpose in the game and that is to help you solve puzzles and move forward. At first the puzzles are simple and involve using clones as pressure plate activators for the most part. After a handful of simple puzzles The Swapper begins to get truly innovative: it’s revealed, through an entirely organic moment, that the device you hold can do more than just create clones. The Swapper is also capable of slowing down time for the player and allowing the player to swap their consciousness between clones. This opens up an entirely new level of puzzle solving as you switch from clone to clone to figure out the best way to utilize each one. And that’s it. There are no more powers or abilities to gain and no further knowledge needed to complete the puzzles in The Swapper. If I had to describe the puzzles in a single word it would be pure because, while each puzzle switches up the mechanics and the ideas, you have everything you need to solve it. In fact, the majority of my enjoyment came from the times where I knew the exact layout I needed to solve a puzzle but I just couldn’t figure out how to place my clones in the correct way. If a puzzle is too hard at the moment you can choose to skip it or just come back later when you feel ready. Portals litter the space station and make traveling to old puzzles simple. And when those puzzles are finally solved you feel like an absolute genius for doing so, and the game rewards you with…more puzzles!
It doesn’t hurt that The Swapper is absolutely gorgeous to look at either. From the extraterrestrial beginnings, to the space station interiors, to the jaw dropping silent space sequences every single visual is top notch. The Swapper‘s visual style comes from the fact that the game was made using clay and other hand-made objects to give it its unique beauty. I would go so far as to say that you could take any single frame from The Swapper, hang it on a wall and call it art, it’s truly that stunning. When in motion the game has a weight to it all that I found just right for the puzzle-platforming gameplay, and when it all comes to a standstill you’re reminded just how intricate and beautiful each individual piece of the world is. While the majority of the game takes place on a space station, The Swapper does a fantastic job of switching up the environments through the clever use of different ship sections, such as the recreation center, a greenhouse of sorts and cargo bays. As mentioned earlier, the few space sequences, in which the character is floating through space with nothing but The Swapper’s swap animation to move them around, had me hooked. There is no immediate danger or puzzle to solve, instead your character floats effortlessly as the void of space creates a vacuum of silence, the camera zooms out as you move along and you begin to realize how small you really are. It’s an incredibly moving sequence and the fact that it happens multiple times. That it never got old for me speaks volumes of the effectiveness of the moment.
I had mentioned Bioshock: Infinite earlier as a comparison to my experience with The Swapper. While Bioshock focuses largely on story, The Swapper’s story is very take it or leave it, and I mean that in the best way possible. While other characters do eventually show up their actions are never immediately impacting the player. And while there are a bunch of logs to read through those logs are completely optional. Most of the logs give back story as to what’s going on and how the Swapper device came to be. The logs add back story to the universe and it’s a back story I truly sank into. What’s great about this is that another player could choose to skip the logs, focus on the puzzles and still have an absolutely great time with The Swapper. The story, much in the vein of the art style, is subdued and not at the forefront of the game. Instead the game chooses to draw attention to the puzzles, the meat of the game, which is the right thing to do.
I’d be remiss to not mention something that has been a gripe with others about The Swapper and that is the similarities to Metroid games. While the doors in The Swapper look exactly like those in Super Metroid and the map overlay is basically the same, I don’t see any reason that should make me dislike the game. As far as I’m concerned, that is the only length The Swapper goes to towards paying homage to a great game of the past and it does so in a way that I rather appreciated. It was nice, for once, to see a game take mechanics that have been used before, switch them up to make it its own and then do so in a polished manner.
When I finished The Swapper I didn’t want more puzzles, I didn’t want more logs to flesh out the world or give me answers and I didn’t want to jump back in to solve some of the puzzles I had missed or chose not to do. I sat back and marveled at the complete experience I had with The Swapper and relished every second I spent in the game’s world. A unique art style made with care, a game mechanic that is simple to pick up and, while never changing, still full of surprises later on, and a story that I found to be touching in the end. The Swapper isn’t in your face with bright colors and loud explosions. It’s laid back and relaxed while it shows you just how great it is. If you’re coming for the puzzles then you’ll have a great time, if you want a story that makes you question your beliefs then you may find what you’re looking for and if you just want to sit in awe at the clay world then that’s fine too.