Nestled firmly between thoughtful innovation and traditional time-tested conventions lies SwapQuest, a cute puzzle-RPG hybrid from German developer Rebusmind. On paper, the telltale signs for SwapQuest didn’t get me too excited: it’s a port of a popular mobile game that came out last year, the game’s screenshots depicted a rather mundane, frustrating experience and above all else, it’s a puzzle game… and saying I’m not very good at puzzle games is frankly the understatement of the year. Thankfully, SwapQuest pulled the rabbit out of the hat and charmed me with some wonderful puzzle-RPG magic, albeit with a couple of minor flaws.
In traditional RPG fashion the game begins a long, long time ago in a fictional kingdom called Avantana. An evil legion of demons, aptly named The Horde, have swarmed the land and only one man wielding a rare crystal, called the Arconyme, and a powerful sword, called Aventuril, has the power to stop them. After defeating the demons and entrapping them inside the crystal, the kingdom is once again a place of peace and prosperity. However, over the years The Horde grow in power and manage to break out of their crystal prison. With the Arconyme shattered into a dozen pieces and scattered across the kingdom, it is your job to piece together the broken shards of the crystal and banish the demons back from whence they came, whilst outrunning the evil horde that is hot on your heels.
Now, if you’re familiar with old puzzle games like Pipe Mania or remember the hacking mini-game in Bioshock then the moment-to-moment gameplay of SwapQuest will come naturally to you. You view the action from a top-down perspective and the eventual path that will lead you to the end of the level is all jumbled up. Your task is to manipulate the jumbled up pathways into an orderly fashion and move your character safely across the assortment of environments. The screen slowly autoscrolls, which does add an element of haste to your decision-making and there are also numerous hazards that try their best to stop you in your tracks. These hazards range from nasty monsters, to pesky traps to fairly simplistic environmental puzzles.
One thing that I was worried about going into SwapQuest was how it handled combat. I was concerned that the tile-swapping mechanics were going to be interlaced with having to think laboriously about the nuances of combat. Don’t get me wrong, I love games with a good combat system, but I felt that having to think hurriedly about the tile-swapping puzzles, coupled with a manual fighting system, would be all a bit too much, similar to juggling with one too many balls. I was somewhat relieved to discover that the combat is taken care of autonomously and is mostly stat-based and turn-based: you hit the enemy, with a chance of hitting, causing a critical or missing and then the enemy has a pop at you. It’s a solid system and works surprisingly well, especially when as the combat plays out, you’re busy thinking about what tiles to place next.
So the combat system is where the RPG elements really coalesce with what is, at its core, a puzzle game and it’s actually really well done. Enemies drop crystals, which act as the currency for the merchant in the game, and your character levels up, which goes towards acquiring some new perks and the usual strength and HP upgrades. These RPG elements are really welcome additions and help elevate the game beyond its humble puzzler foundations.
It should be noted that truly completing the game entails replaying a handful of extra stages to find the missing Arconyme shards and facing off against the boss for a second time. Thanks to the multiple paths the game offers, going back and playing the levels you missed and finding the other crystal shards helps to add a little more playtime to the 5-6 hours SwapQuest’s campaign has to offer. Rounding out the solid campaign are a smattering of quick and easy challenge modes. These aren’t especially a highlight, but do help add a little extra spice to the package as a whole.
It would be remiss of me to not mention the minor grievances I had with SwapQuest. The game’s pacing, particularly near the end, is a little off. The penultimate tower is a bit of a grind and I grew a little tired of the game repeating the same ideas over the thirteen or so final stages. It really felt like the game ran out of steam on the final stretch. Most of the bosses are brilliant and really well designed, but I did find the final boss pretty damn frustrating. In his final form, he’s one tough cookie to hit, and he must have nailed me more times than the whole game combined and then some. It’s these minor issues that unfortunately take the shine off a fun little game.
Nevertheless, SwapQuest overall is a success, albeit a pint-sized one. It effectively fuses two unlikely genres into a unique and engaging experience. You may have played games like SwapQuest, but by the same token you haven’t played a game quite like SwapQuest. It’s a rare hybrid of RPG and puzzler and because of this it’s hard to not be enamoured by its eccentric swagger.
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