I love when indie developers put a fresh take on beloved game genres. That’s exactly what Digital Kingdoms have delivered with Swordship.
Dubbed a “dodge’em up” this, the fourth title from the Swiss team is their most ambitious game yet!
Bringing a Swordship to a Gunfight
Set in a world where most of the lands have become submerged by the seas, most of humanity has moved to three huge underwater cities. While these cities bustle with trade through a constant flow of containers filled with goods, there are those banished from the cities that struggle to survive in the remaining barren and inhospitable lands.
Rising up against the big cities, skilled pilots use lightning-fast ships to steal some of the containers and deliver them to the banished.
You are one such pilot.
Deeper than it may seem at first, Swordship has a steep learning curve. Your ship is fragile and has no weapons so imperative to success is learning the enemies attack patterns.
Armed with this knowledge you strategically use the enemies own fire against them by performing well timed manoeuvres. As you hone your skills you find yourself pulling off very satisfying trick-shots and multi-kills racking up a nice score as you do so.
Turrets, drones and mines will do their damnedest to destroy you as you try to steal the available containers. The mayhem during stages will have you channelling your inner Patches O’Houlihan as you dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge.
While this is essentially an arcade shooter it’s got a sprinkling of Roguelike elements. Just like the fantastic PS5 exclusive Returnal, when you die it’s right back to the beginning – somewhat wiser and more determined than the last time.
Deaths never feel cheap and there’s a real sense of developing a mastery of piloting your super fast ship. Progression also comes with added challenges as you not only unlock access to new upgrades for your ship but also unlock new difficulty modes, enemy types and treacherous weather variations.
It’s a case of weighing up risk vs reward as collected containers can be used in different ways. Keep the container for yourself and receive some minor ship upgrades or donate the container for a hefty score boost. Keeping containers also gives an extra life should the ship be destroyed.
This is more akin to a continue in arcade games though as you restart the current stage. It gives an added strategic element to gameplay as you decide what the best plan is in order to maximize your chances of progress. So when you fail, you only have yourself to blame.
While currently attached upgrades can be viewed by pressing the options button, it would be really cool if each upgrade would change the look of the ship slightly.
Graphics & Audio
The visual style on show is great looking with explosions in particular being a stand out. Certain kills you rack up are shown with a slow-mo switch of perspective which feels really cool. Subtle little animations like steering fins controlling direction and the jet stream from the rear of the Swordship are excellently done. The game runs flawlessly throughout with a crisp and smooth 60fps presentation.
The game uses both audio and visual queues to help you outsmart the enemies. So keep your eyes open and your ears peeled. The electronic soundtrack delivers a punch and rhythm that will have your head bopping and feet tapping. Sound effects are well done with some great attention to detail – dive under the surface of the water and the soundtrack dulls out as if being heard while submerged. A really nice touch.
The end of stage score card sounds are so arcadey that they fit the vibe perfectly. A headset is a must for this game as it sounds so awesome.
One gripe I would have with the soundtrack though is I wish that each stage had its own unique track rather than the same track used for each of the 3 stages in one city.
With 3 difficulty modes, multiple ship varieties and an array of ship upgrades to experiment with there’s replay-ability in spades here, especially if the game gets its addictive hooks into you. There is also the challenge of hitting the magical 60,000 score to unlock everything in the game.
For trophy hunters there are 18 trophies – 2 bronze, 8 silver, 7 gold and a platinum.
There is also a simple photo mode included (accessed from the pause menu) to capture any epic manoeuvres or trick-shots.
Swordship is fantastic, bringing a welcome and fresh spin on the arcade shooter. It’s an all around package with great visuals, brilliant soundtrack and most importantly, responsive and addictive gameplay that keeps you on your toes. You will constantly find yourself going for “just one more run”. Don’t let this game pass you by.
Digital Kingdoms have really set the bar high here and I look forward to what treasures they bring to us in the future.
I am delighted to award this indie gem the Thumb Culture Gold Award.
Disclaimer: A code was received in order to write this review.
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