Swarm review

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Swarm review

With its many deadly traps and yawning gaps, Swarm certainly qualifies as a platforming-puzzler, but it’s no average brain-bender. You control a frisky crowd of 50 blue critters whose main goal is feeding points to Momma. Who’s Momma? An enormous worm that’d give Frank Herbert the heebie-jeebies, and she barfs up her dopey progeny at the beginning of each level.

Each alien landscape is a side-scrolling forced march, but you’ll need to constantly manage your formation (à la Pikmin or Overlord) to make it through with minimal casualties. Some levels focus too much on murky darkness or overpowered roving enemies, but most are simply fields filled with spikes, poisonous gas vents, saw blades, electrical barriers, and other environmental hazards. By manipulating the triggers and the A button, you can spread out, huddle close, jump across chasms, stack up to reach floating strands of collectible DNA, and bash breakables filled with scoring pickups.

That nearly every action is tied to three buttons sounds unwieldy, but it feels natural enough within a few levels. We just wish the controls always felt responsive. For the first half of the adventure, the growing sense that the Swarmites view your inputs as suggestions more than orders is endearing: the first time you throw a collection of bombs at a barrier and some of the little goofballs chuck each other instead, you’re bound to laugh out loud. You’ll need to manually zoom the camera to see these amusing antics in any real detail, but Swarm doesn’t lack for personality.

After you beat the first of two bosses, however, such insubordination wears a bit thin. Unlocking levels demands some impressive scoring feats, and to maintain your growing multiplier, you’ll need to relentlessly nab shiny pickups. That’d be a lot easier if fast, accurate movement wasn’t so hard for this unwieldy crowd of nincompoops. You’re more likely to give up on tantalizing bonuses when success takes a dozen stacking attempts or a boost-jump that’s more about luck than skill.

Chances are you’ll spend as much time gritting your teeth in the second half as you did grinning in the first. If only Swarm played to its quirky strengths instead of working against them, its maddening obstacles would be much more enjoyable.

On Xbox Live Arcade

+ Nutty light-hearted attitude; striking graphics; intriguing control mechanics.

+ Emphasis on constant scoring keeps the action trucking at a steady clip.

- Unwisely requires precision from an unruly mob; patrolling enemies are uniformly irritating.

? What the heck is big old Momma, anyway?

7.5

 
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