Sword & Sworcery EP sees itself as a 21st century exploration of vintage old-school adventures, with Zelda as chief inspiration. The end result - a collaborative work between Toronto-based independent studio Capy, cryptic art team Superbrothers, and musician Jim Guthrie - is something that feels both strangely familiar and recognisably distinct.
The context is that you're a lone Scythian warrior deep in the Caucasus Mountains, but this is simply a brief premise to knock you through a series of striking pixel vignettes. Your initial quest is to retrieve an artefact known simply as the Megatome, but this is incorporated to blow open a wider range of sensory challenges.
Few games integrate the wide range of iDevice functions like Sworcery, which has you rotating the device to enter combat with the rest of the game - an exploratory piece - taking place in landscape orientation. One moment even has you pausing to visit the system settings to change the date, shattering the fourth wall to emphasise a focus on the lunar cycle. Much of the game wraps itself around intentionally cryptic interludes juxtaposed with delightful rolling landscapes.
With an emphasis on being an audiovisual sensory experience, Sworcery rightfully excels in its looks - the game has the aesthetic of something modelled around the colour palette of an Apple II kicked into the iPad era, with elegantly sharp backgrounds encasing the whole adventure, but notably the lush forestry that makes up a good chunk of the game. Most of these scenes are pretty enough that you'd want to print them out on your fanciest, glossiest paper and keep them in a nice frame.
Music is equally complementary to the experience, mixing grimy ambient notes with twee adventurous overtones. Staccato audio tics and cues weave and layer together until they become bulging crescendo moments with a sense of courageous thrill, and the efforts to blend sound with sentiments and mood is rarely executed with such competence in games.
Less central to the experience is probably the oft-mentioned Twitter incorporation. Each line of dialogue is deliberately and meticulously structured so that it can be posted to Twitter with a tap of a single button, and perhaps Sworcery's most lasting impression will be the people who remember seeing things like "we sang a Song of Sworcery & summoned a slumbering sylvan sprite from the cool waters of a deepwater pond - so strange" in their Twitter feed.
Most controversial will be the tone; there are plenty of times when Sworcery bounds across its beautifully textured maps with a noticeable whiff of pretension, and I imagine the development team gave each other congratulatory back slaps every time they blended some ornate dialogue with a hint of internet meme culture.
But, even if you find yourself irked by the tone, it is impossible to ignore the passion and creativity that went into creating Sworcery. Maybe Capy and the Superbrothers are designing a game with a cocksure swagger, but Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP exhibits more than enough quality to justify the self-assurance.