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Swarm hands-on preview

Swarmites are idiots. They'll follow your every command, even if it means getting impaled by arrows or random bike parts. They'll ram into whatever you tell them to, despite the fact that several of them will burst into little blotches of blue goo. If they're walking toward a land mine or a bear trap, they don't see any problems with just walking right into it. Left alone long enough, they'll go investigate the nearest spinning saw, decapitating themselves at the first chance they get. So don't feel bad when a bunch of the cute little buggers fall off a cliff or get melted by lava, it's all part of the game.

Hothead Games describes Swarm as a platformer, but honestly, we're not entirely sure we see it. Traditionally, platformers are about precision jumping and timing, but Swarm has none of that. Players control 50 tiny blue Swarmites at a time, and they're not the most organized bunch. It's really closer to Pikmin then, say, Super Meat Boy. It's nigh impossible to control these fellows with any semblance of precision, and that's just what Hothead Games expects.

Right off the bat, we're taught that we shouldn't get too attached to our Swarmites. In the first level, a large field of land mines proves to be impossible for our intrepid guys to make it through, and we immediately lose large numbers of them to the tiny explosions. As we do so, our score multiplier goes up. What is this? A reward for intentionally sacrificing Swarmites? And why are we getting points anyways? Apparently, the points represent little bits of DNA, which the Swarmites have been tasked with bringing back to their big Mama Swarmite so that she can grow larger, and eventually buy a new hat. We didn't get any explanation as to why she needs to grow larger or why she needs a new hat, but honestly it doesn't matter. What matters is getting your gaggle of blue men across the level and back to Mama.

In order to get there, the Swarmites have only a few simple, but important skills. Obviously, they can jump to get across chasms, but they can also group up to squeeze through tight spots or spread out to minimize losses to falling obstacles such like bombs or boulders. Combining two of the three adds to their repertoire, our favorite being the combination of bunching up and jumping, which leads to the creation of a Swarmite tower. It's hilarious to watch the tower wobble and teeter around the level, and we suspect it may be useful to get through some of the more narrow segments of the game. Moving from a spread formation to a huddle gets a little speed boost for the guys, which is important when trying to escape a fiery death from an oncoming lava wave.

Completing levels in Swarm requires the player to gain a certain amount of points in that level. In order to do so, players have to snag as many of the little floating DNA bits. The points attained for grabbing as many as you can snag with your greedy little hands will then be increased by the multiplier, which is increased by either continuously snagging bits or sacrificing Swarmites. But be careful! Lose too many Swarmites and you won't be able to press the pressure plates strewn through the levels that open up areas that tend to be filled to the brim with DNA. Completing the levels multiplies your score further, as a time bonus is added on upon completion. A balance of sacrifice, speediness, and caution is required to get the highest scores and reach the top of the leaderboards. Expect some healthy competition.

In our brief time with the game, we lost several hundred Swarmites. Yet, it wasn't until alter that we felt any remorse for sending our tiny blue friends to their deaths. In the moment, we were obsessed with keeping our multiplier up so we could not only advance to the next level, but keep Mama happy and hopefully get her that new hat she's wanted for so long. And you know what? We bet that's just what the Swarmites we lost in the process would want.

Mar 7, 2011