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Destructoid review: Sway

6:40 PM on 04.07.2009 // Brad Nicholson

Sometimes, introductions don’t come easy. I’ve had this one on the back burner for over two days. I have around 150-350 words to sell you on clicking the link to our review if you’re uninterested. (I’d imagine the curious would do it regardless.) Usually, I try to write about a memory that was jarred loose by my experience with the game or even try to convey an emotional response that I had while playing.

As you can imagine, I didn’t have either of those things.

I recently had the opportunity to play Illusion Labs’ iPhone title, Sway, for review. It’s a platformer. You swing instead of jump. I had a good time with it.

Hit the break for the review.

Sway (iPhone)
Developer: Illusion Labs
Publisher: Illusion Labs
Released: February 23, 2009
MSRP: $4.99

Illusion Labs’ Sway is a charming platform title that had me swinging from platform to platform for hours on end -- literally. It’s special in that it doesn’t rely on any other conventional means to move the game forward. Swinging hand-over-hand is the crux of the game, and also its simplistic beauty. However, there can be a great deal of frustration involved with the mechanic. Sway flirts with redundancy and overly difficult levels. It also doesn’t register every finger motion, which in the end, it really needs to be able to do.

Unlike Pitfall or Bionic Commando, there are no contextual spots to grab in Sway. Practically every pixel of the game’s varied airborne terrain is a handhold. It’s open-world swinging and each level feels as if you’re doing just that, even if there are arrows indicating the direction to the level’s endpoint.

Swinging is an easy exercise, although it may be a problem if you’re not accustomed to applying two fingers to the iPhone simultaneously, or are wholly unfamiliar with physics-based games. Let me explain by hitting the controls first.

The game is played in the horizontal position. An imaginary line divides the middle of the screen, providing two separate response zones. Pushing down on one side makes the character plant his arm into the environment. When one hand is planted, you can start moving the character back and forth with light strokes with your finger.

Getting to the next platform can be as easy as swinging the unused arm over to the next platform, but as the game progresses, I found myself having to propel the character through the environment. The good news is that it’s easy to take to the air -- the physics in Sway are consistent and predictable. The bad news is that the character’s body -- and more importantly, his hand movement -- is very unpredictable. Characters function as rag dolls of sorts, so a tiny jump can be a major hassle if the opposing hand just so happens to skirt the edge of the next platform.

Characters are quite important to the game. The objective of your adventure is to save Lizzy’s friends, who have been kidnapped and locked away in several stages of the game’s decent-sized world map. Unlocking these characters isn’t merely a story element -- they come equipped with a variety of attributes (heavier, longer reach, and variations of that) that can help you progress through some of the game’s various themed levels that sometimes require a fairly complex approach.

And I have to get this out there: the characters are extremely cute. I’m in love with the robot for all the right reasons.

The immediate goal of every level is to plant a hand into to a circular endpoint. The friend-rescuing levels have the bonus requirement of finding three keys scattered cleverly throughout. Most levels are fairly straightforward affairs that require little skill. But the game quickly changes from mundane fun to frustrating whenever it comes to these rescue missions, or immediately before them. It’s hard to appreciate Sway when you’ve spent twenty to thirty minutes within the confines of a single, themed level constantly repeating the same jump you’ve missed a billion times. To the game’s credit, there’s a beautiful checkpoint system in place. However, most checkpoints sit in front of massive jumps that require skill, patience, and a lot of luck.

While Sway has its frustrating moments, it also has a scale-tipping amount of redeeming qualities. It has an excellent stylized presentation with cutesy character models, and vibrant environments to boot. Most levels aren’t rigged for failure, and allow you to swing with ease and ultimately have fun. And while I did point out the frustrating parts, I think it’s fair to say that the game felt at its most redeeming when I conquered these challenging (or cheap) segments.

Sway has a decent play time and because of the lack of motion controls, you’re actually able to play this one on the bus or in a dentist’s chair. If you’re hot for a unique platformer with a great presentation and solid controls, check this out.

Score: 7 -- Good (7s are solid games that definitely have an audience. Might lack replay value, could be too short or there are some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.)

Brad Nicholson,
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