If I told you Pipe Mania is getting a current generation reimagining, with an RPG twist, you’d probably be pretty surprised. What’s next? Pac-Man becoming a first person shooter? And whilst none of that is really happening, there is a new game on the Xbox One which has clearly been inspired by Pipe Mania and that’s SwapQuest. It’s supposed to be a blend between a simple puzzler and some old school RPG mechanics, but does it make for a good recipe for a game?
In SwapQuest, the tale is that the Horde are a legion of demons that once terrorised the lands of Aventana, until one day a young man trapped the Horde inside a rare crystal – the Arcanyme – after a hellishly fierce battle. Over time, the Horde regained its power bit by bit and caused a crack from within the crystal, eventually forcing its way out and throwing shards of the Arcanyme all over the land. King Wilfreed could do nothing to stop the purple cloud-like demon and so his children, Wilma and Wilbert, must journey to find a legendary sword and recover the shards to help save the day.
The bulk of the story is told within mere seconds of choosing your character, and whilst it sets up the impending quest, it would be better to have more storytelling interjected along the way as it’s all too easy to forget and I felt no real attachment to the characters. There’s nothing ground-breaking to be found in the narrative, we’ve all seen the ‘demonic beasts locked away until something happens to unleash it, and now you must help put it back’ type of story. It’s alright though; it sets the scene well enough.
Deciding which character to choose is pretty straightforward with just Wilbert and Wilma on offer. It’s the class that’s the trickiest to decide upon as there are six different ones too choose from, each of which will benefit different play styles. I find it difficult to know how I’m going to play something ahead of time, so initally went with the Noble all-rounder class which deals more damage as you collect more jewels. Other options include the fast-moving Rogue who has a dog that goes off to collect the jewels, the defensive Acolyte, the lucky and quick Trickster, the increased XP earning Tinkerer, and the Fighter who possesses extra strength in attack and defence. The stats of your character will increase by levelling up and there are two additional abilities to unlock along the way.
SwapQuest itself has been around for a year already on the PS Vita and now having found its way onto consoles, the major positive on its side is that it brings a really easy to understand game to the market. The main aim is to swap tiles around to allow your little character to move about and achieve the necessary objectives, all done via a top down perspective. Each tile has a piece of pathway on it – including straight, corner, t-shaped and cross-shaped paths – and these could take you from left to right, right to left, or bottom to top, leading you towards the end of a regular level as you are being chased by the Horde.
Obviously, you must guide Wilbert or Wilma to the finish line in each of the main levels by swapping tiles around, but there are monsters and chests dotted around to entice you off the beaten track. Whether you engage in venturing towards these is optional to a certain extent, however you’ll need the experience and jewels to become better in battle.
These battles are very simple though – just walk up to a monster and the back and forth of attacks will occur until one of you succumbs to the reality of an empty health bar. Pulling out of battles is possible by just walking away, so unless you’re a maniac, there’s very little chance of dying at the hands of the standard creatures. From vampires and sirens, to bears and mushrooms, there’s a decent amount of variety throughout.
Upon initially playing SwapQuest, the first couple of levels gave me very little confidence in the rest of the game, with very basic environments and monsters that are easily avoidable. Boredom creeps in after a short while in levels that could last up to ten minutes a piece. Thankfully, players are rewarded for sticking with it as the environments become more interesting, with additional hazards and obstacles to overcome, which ramps up the pace across the 12 regular levels. For example, on one level, fires break out and spread, and so you must mash the A button with the cursor on water to make in splash over to where the fire is to put it out. Putting out these fires, swapping tiles and defeating monsters, all whilst keeping an eye on the encroaching horde certainly keeps you on your toes.
Other areas include a spooky graveyard, snowy fields, a desert, and a lake; there’s a bit of variation in terms of the themed hazards too. The only downside is the snow-based level, mainly because the pathway directions can become covered in snow, which is a nightmare when trying to find the one you want.
There’s also a selection of short challenge levels that try to spice up the goings on by setting you targets such as chasing a creature which drops jewels to collect as many as possible, or having to cross the ice to gain jewels without colliding into hazards. They are fun and ideal to change up proceedings, without being anything special.
The best of all are the boss levels, as although there are only three main bosses, not including the Horde itself, they are a great test of your ability to adapt to the threat. Nothing is divulged as to how these huge bosses are going to meet their maker, instead you must work out their patterns and weak spots, utilising your tile-swapping prowess to defeat them. Figuring out the solution isn’t easy; it’s ‘outside the box’ stuff, providing a real sense of achievement when you eventually work out how to completely deplete their health bar.
After running through one route to the last level, it’ll unlock the alternate route choices that you avoided, letting you collect the shards that you don’t already have. These shards are found once per main level and are the key to putting away the Horde forever. One thing I noticed is that even with the best weapon in the game, the best shop bought armour, and a load of special effects on the two, my little character never felt like a powerful being. He’s making a simple encounter with a basic creature look tricky, which is a shame. The shop itself isn’t great either, with a small selection of wares on offer.
Having to use a cursor throughout brought about a couple of issues when everything gets hectic. It’s tricky to manoeuvre both quickly and accurately, whilst it’s not always easy to figure out which tile is selected, leading to a fair few swaps that hindered the experience slightly. Otherwise, there’s not much else to complain about.
Everything about the visuals is portrayed in a cutesy manner, where even the bosses don’t look all that terrifying, thus ensuring a younger audience can become enamoured by the overall vibrancy. The art style can be switched at any point from rough looking pixels that wouldn’t look out of place decades ago, to a far smoother version which still gives off the retro vibe, but is much easier on the eyes. It’s a welcomed option for sure. As far as the sound is concerned, it fits the adventure nicely, without ever being too irritating or overly pleasing. It’s just somewhere in between.
And that’s almost an accurate description of SwapQuest on the whole, because it’s not terrible by any means, nor is it the most enthralling game I’ve ever played. It’s a good game that’s very easy to pick up, which starts off being boring and slowly improves thanks to the introduction of more hazards and slightly more frenetic gameplay. The story’s really basic though, the combat lacks excitement and the RPG aspect is as light as it can be. Some of the areas’ gimmicks are a pain, but the creativity is appreciated to add variation. The bosses are the stars though, forcing the use of my brain to discover the route to success and bringing great satisfaction upon the slaying of them.
SwapQuest is priced low enough to be worthy of a cheerful experience that can be enjoyed by all ages, especially given the option for family members and friends to adventure in two player local co-op. But only purchase it if you’re happy with a simple puzzler that lacks on the RPG front.