Swarm, Hothead’s latest title for PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade, is best described as a mixture of the beloved Gamecube title Pikmin, a dash of Lemmings, garnished with a sprinkling of the original Oddworld games. The player guides a *ahem* swarm of charming little blue monsters around the various areas, deposited their by Mother, an Alien style creature. The aim is to simply get to the end of the level, looking to collect DNA and Matter along the way, before being sucked back up by Mother’s big blue…appendage. The swarm itself is limited to fifty at any one time, with regeneration pods dotted around in strategically placed locations.
Controls are simple enough to get to grips with – the left stick controls the swarm at all times, while a squeeze of the left trigger will spread them out and the right trigger will bring them back into a more concentrated formation. Unfortunately as new moves and abilities are added, they become more fiddly and inaccurate, with it almost feeling as if the swarm are having a hard time keeping up with the commands issued to them. The nadir comes as early as the first boss fight, which is an exercise in frustration instead of being a culmination of the journey, as the player struggles to apply the correct formation of Swarmites to land the killer blow.
It’s necessary to bump off a fair share of Swarmites along the way and there are plenty of ways in which to dispose of them. It’s something that is emphasised from the very beginning with a “do not press �? button prompt beside one of them at the main menu. Giving into temptation demonstrates the many grisly death that will be incurred; from being impaled, diced, electrocuted, set on fire and a host of others, Swarm encourages sacrifice for the greater good at every opportunity.
Moving through the levels the player needs to keep their constantly decreasing multiplier from dropping as they smash exploding crates, trigger switches and avoid all manner of perils, with the overall aim of keeping their score heading ever upwards. The base score is continually added to by the Swarms actions, and once you place the final multiplier score on top, it can far exceed the requirement set out to progress to the next level. If at any point you run out of Swarmites, and haven’t cashed in the multiplier at one of the various checkpoints, that score will disappear. When you combine the surroundings and actively killing Swarmites to keep the multiplier going during fallow moments in a level, there’s a nice risk/reward structure going on, acting as a hook that will have many coming back to replay levels once the main game is completed.
There’s also a meta game at work in the form of Death Medals. These are awarded in two types; Accumulative and Mega Death. The former tallies up all the electrocutions, impalements, etc. that occur across all levels, while the latter is awarded for offing the last ten Swarmites in a particular fashion. While initially the numbers required to achieve all medals might seem daunting, it soon adds up and provides a nice additional challenge to proceedings.
Sadly during the latter levels the design starts to peter out, becoming a mixture of samey and frustrating, failing to build on previous triumphs. Only the penultimate level provides a nice spin on what the Swarmites are asked to do, or are capable of.
Despite the niggles, Swarm provides a diverting experience while it lasts, with incentives for the more dedicated to revisit areas to boost their leaderboard standings. Or just to indulge in a bit of casual masochism towards the clueless hive mind.