Upon first glance Swarm looks to be a platformer in the same vein as those loveable, green haired Lemmings who have been bringing the cuteness since 1991. With Lemmings, the objective was to dig, build or even float your Lemmings through the treacherous levels in order to safely get them home - and when you first start playing Swarm those nurturing instincts again kick in... until you realise that order to reach your high score you'll need to sacrifice a few for the good of the many - and you'll have a sadistically swell time doing it. But more on that later.
The premise behind Swarm is quite a simple one. You start each level with 50 blue aliens (known as Swarmites) who you must frantically herd through each level in order gather DNA to provide for the 'mother' blob so that she can evolve. To do this you need to race your Swarmites as fast as possible through each level, while also ensuring that a majority of your flock survives the journey. But, whatâ€™s unavoidable is that you'll need to make certain sacrifices as you go in order to reach the required score to unlock the next level.
Although you have 50 Swarmites under your control, the swarm maintains a herd mentality - in that you control each individual as one large group. Controlling the swarm is akin to manipulating a handful of clay. You can tell the swarm to spread out in order to avoid traps, or you get the group to contract so that they don't fall off the treacherously narrow path that you're heading towards. Essentially, the idea is that the swarm can alter its shape in order to combat the murderous obstacle that is put in its path. Swarmites can also learn a couple of other moves to help get them through levels, such as turning into cannonballs or creating a tower of Swarmites.
It's a certainty that you may lose a few of the poor blue aliens as you jump, avoid obstacles and the like, but some can also be cruelly sacrificed, in order to keep the score multiplier ticking over. Luckily, you are able to replenish your stock of lost Swarmites at specific points during the levels, while losing all 50 Swarmites will result in going back to the last checkpoint and being forced to run the gauntlet all over again.
If Lemmings had a focus on survival, you'd definitely say that Swarm is firmly focused on death. Much like turning scientists into ham hocks like in 'Splosion Man, the morbidness of Swarm is so overtly cartoonish that it's more likely to cause a chuckle than being outrightly offensive. Gamers earn Death Medals (which relate to each way a Swarmite can die) such as being burnt, impaled, et cetera. The more times a Swarmite dies in a specific way, the closer you'll get to unlocking that particular Death Medal which really serves as nothing more than a badge of honour for leaderboard junkies or something on the checklist for Trophy/Achievement hunters.
At its core, Swarm is a title that harks back to gaming's past of the 80s and early 90s - in that the main focus of it all is to achieve high scores. A score multiplier fills up as you pick up glowing orbs which are peppered throughout each level, with the potential to create some huge chains if you go about your business in the correct way. It is definitely a sadistically satisfying experience to score big multipliers by stringing various events together such as collecting some orbs as well as murdering an innocent Swarmite or two for the greater good. Death by explosion, electrocution, decapitation and the like leads to some seriously multiplier chaining going on and there is a definitely a steep learning curve in learning the right time to off a Swarmite in order to get a huge boost to your score.
Because of this learning curve, Swarm is sure to test the patience of many a gamer - some may even turn off the title at the frustration of it all, but those of you who love a good challenge will instantly find something to like with Swarm and will surely revel in accumulating massive chains to show off on the game's leaderboards. Much of the reason behind the frustration of it all is the fact that some of the level score targets are pretty difficult to meet without a near perfect run - this becomes quite apparent from the fourth level and onwards. But even with a frustrating learning curve at times, Swarm never feels unbeatable and for those that persist with it, the reward of Swarm greatly outweighs the frustrations.
Presentation wise, Swarm is one package with a slick coat of polish on it. The art style is pleasant and whimsical, yet not overtly so thanks to the black humour of the title. Whether its watching Swarmites get impaled in-game or watching the many death animations of the 'do not touch' button in the menu, we are adamant that you'll have a chuckle or two. If there is one negative regarding the visuals its the over abundance of brown that several levels suffer from.
Sadly, the game's soundtrack isn't on par with its visuals, with most of the sound effects and the musical score being unremarkable. For a title that generates so much fun, the fact that the aural accompaniment fails to do the same is just disappointing.
While it may not be the longest downloadable title out there, Swarm really has a killer one-two punch with its combination of engaging and unique gameplay and a whimsical presentation style. All in all, it's a great downloadable game with a substantial amount of content in one polished package. Add in a nice dose of black humour and this is one game that won't leave you blue.