Imagine your own pack of globular lemmings that you steer like a school of very self-sacrificing fish - sacrifice being the key word in Swarm. On hand to show off the madness this week at GDC were Shane Bettenhausen of UTV Ignition and Joel DeYoung of Hothead Games. Hothead, the guys behind the Penny Arcade games and DeathSpank, are now delivering an action-puzzler with a heavy dose of platforming fun.
Straight away the game teaches the essentials of life in control of the Swarm - namely, death. Your very first foray takes the little guys across a path littered with spikes that will inevitably skewer a hunk of the crew. No matter, they replenish at a future point - only to meet with similar attrition rates as you encounter bombs, leap chasms or encourage them to plow through obstacles.
You might say the titular blue guys are lacking in smarts, but what they're missing in grey matter they make up for in Borg-like assimilation and esteem for the greater good. Their willy-nilly heroics don't go uncounted, those deaths increase your multiplier and unlock medals for both quantity as well as quality.
While death is heavily rewarded keeping the little guys alive is necessary to collecting DNA and triggering pads. Still, the notion that the Swarmites exist to be destroyed is at the core of Swarm. Levels have score requirements, not Swarm requirements, which means you want them to drop like flies and get that multiplier sky high.
My college biology class leads me to believe that Swarm is educational, focusing on the collection of DNA for "Mother" so that she can get a new hat. It's science! As Swarmites expire across levels, it's possible to replenish the horde with little DNA clusters on the ground. You may only need one Swarmite at level end to finish, but getting there requires a great many more.
Reaching some malicious ventilation, it was necessary to send some of the Swarm into the pipeworks in order to clear the road ahead of poisonous gas. In a rather dire moment the Swarmites were tasked with picking up some bombs and lobbing them at a wall in need of destroying. Most of the Swarmites got it right while others picked up their comrades and chucked them into the explosion. Leave the swarm idle for too long and they get misadventurous, and like the infected in The Happening lose all their self-preservation and find the nearest way to off themselves.
In its more platforming guise you guide the 50 blob flock through perils like Pikmin with more action than strategy. The biggest trick to steering the Swarm is perfecting an almost breathing rhythm of gathering and dispersing your flock to propel them forward like a cheerfully suicidal jellyfish. Other essential moves are dashing to destroy obstacles and having the Swarmites climb one atop the other to form a teetering totem - that can be steered with care! Delivered through a side-on camera the swarm can travel up, down and around the space in 3D space. Moving like fish through water, controlling the swarm is eerily gratifying.
The game's leaderboards will track important things like level times, surviving Swarmites and of course: the kill count. As you play you'll be reminded of friend's high scores and will be able to follow which of the possible Swarmite deaths you've brought about.
I really had fun with this one and look forward to hearing what you all think when the game releases! (releasing in March, date to be confirmed. Coming to PSN and XBLA)
Death Medal 2
Swarm Fly By