With a name like Swordship, you may be surprised to hear you have no weapons to fight off your enemies.
This is a dodge-em-up, through and through. And your sole objective is staying alive, stealing packages and depositing them at designated drop-off points.
In a way, it’s kind of like Death Stranding. But no weight proportions and distributions to worry about, no Kojima-infused sci-fi story or mountains to climb over and no Norman Reedus. Sorry.
Actually, Swordship is a fairly simplistic game at heart, with a really engaging hook, but it’s also one that can be quite frustrating to even like at times. Especially in the early going.
The screen is ever scrolling across a series of lanes, and to keep progressing you’ll need to switch seamlessly between them. It’s all about avoiding different types of enemy gunfire, while keeping an eye out for a large yellow beam on the horizon. Once you see that beam, you need to risk everything to stay in its lane so you can steal the package.
It’s entirely possible to miss them, of course, and that’s what makes each level all the more challenging and frustrating. But the goal isn’t necessarily to just make it through each level irrespective of whether you get the package or not, but it’s to gather as many as possible, progress, and build the most efficient vessel in order to get the job done faster, and more seamlessly.
Containers can contain things like fire resistance, the option to deliver packages instantly, and wave boost damage to instantly kill enemies on the screen. So missing these isn’t really an option as they can be your key to staying in each run, especially since you have such limited lives.
That said, you can also donate packages to increase your overall score or convert them into lives so you can keep playing to your hearts content. In fact, if you unlock enough to get the Mechanic Ship, you can basically play through the whole game with ease as each container provides 2 extra lives. It’s almost like unlocking an Easy Mode.
But that can be easier said than done as the controls are hyper-sensitive for a start. A slight nudge in the wrong direction can lead to insta-death. From the first level, you have zero lives, so you’re actually at your most vulnerable. You’ll also have to be aware that the scenery changes from time to time, meaning you can’t stay in the same place for too long otherwise you could suddenly be travelling through lava or crashing into a building.
Staying still isn’t really an option anyway as gunfire of all sorts comes at you, with fully-charged blasts that take up a 1/3rd of the screen, bombs being dropped on your head and long-range infa-red laser beams tracking your position.
You’re going to need to stay busy and active in order to keep moving forward. And while sometimes it’s absolute margins between getting hit or not, with the screen sometimes getting so overpopulated you’ve got barely anywhere to move, progression remains quite enjoyable in the game.
The other thing Swordship does extremely well is its physics and is one of the keys to staying alive. You need to try and learn enemy behaviour patterns enough that you can turn their weapons against them. So, for instance, if you’re positioned near a mine and there’s a turret trying to turn fire on you from the left, if you set the mine off and move in time, you can blow the turret up instead.
Similarly, you can use aerial bomber ammo against anything on the map. And if you do take out an enemy that way, it usually sets off a slow-mo camera with varying cinematic angles to really add a bit of style to your evasive maneuvers. It’s actually really cool and is well worth doing as it not only adds to your score multipliers but drops little yellow balls of energy that power up your Swordship special. Provided you have one.
Personally, I found that at the end of a run, when all your lives are gone and you’re tallying everything up, finding out what you’ve unlocked can inspire another go or two. Especially since it often fundamentally changes the way you play. Digital Kingdom can be commended, at least, for trying to keep things fresh for the player.
And a note on the visual style. You’ll be pleased to hear a fast paced game like this manages to keep a solid, stable frame rate, it looks suitably futuristic and is quite distinct in its appearance. It plays beautifully on Switch, actually, and realistically, that and Steam Deck are the perfect platforms for Swordship.
Your experiences may vary and frustrations can definitely lead to a quick burnout on this one, especially in the early going and especially at the start of a run. But sticking with it enough really opens the game up and you can find plenty of enjoyment too. It might even be one you stick on your regular rotations.
Swordship is definitely a tough game to love at times and it doesn’t go easy on the player from the word go, but if you manage to get through its early challenges, start unlocking better ships and items, the game really opens up and the creativity and quality begins to shine. That, sadly, can be quite a big ask for a game with such hyper-sensitive controls, regular insta-deaths, and enemy frequency and brutality.
+ Stable frame rate and solid visuals
+ Lots of ship and item creativity to keep things interesting over the long term
+ Cinema cam and enemies shooting one another is super satisfying
– So many insta-deaths lead to so much frustration
– The game takes a while to really open up and may have lost the player before then
– Controls feel overly responsive at times
Swordship is out now on PC, PlayStation, Xbox, and Switch
Played on Switch OLED
Code Kindly Provided by Thunderful
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