The Swapper: Review
How many Mario's have you killed? Seriously: add it up. I've been playing since the first, even counting Donkey Kong. Even further, how many times have you VOLUNTARILY killed Mario? I was a Luigi fan, and even though he was a pallette clone, would plug in two controllers and off Mario just so Luigi could save the princess. Even now, in four-player Mario Mayhem on the Wii U, there are times that if you drop your character off the screen, it allows the others to advance easier as the camera scrolls along without you.
Where did they go? There is no ending of a Mario game with Bowser laughing madly over a dead plumber as the world plummets into darkness and he has whatever way he's trying to get out of Peach. No world where Bowser drops that one platform over lava out of the plans, thereby cinching Mario's demise. No, Mario keeps going. Alternate timelines? Or is Mario forever cloned, and are there a huge pile of corpses at the bottom of that bottomless pit?
The Swapper brings this to the forefront. A Metroidvania style puzzler, the prime game mechanic revolves around a "Swapper" device, which allows you to make perfect clones of yourself. These clones mimic you perfectly, and you can exchange control to any of the clones you create. What happens when a clone dies? It crumples to the ground and isn't thought of again. As time goes on, though, you come to a time whether, by choice or by chance, you make your way through a room and realize you are ending in a different body. Are you yourself anymore?
There's a Greek legend about Theseus and his ship. He sailed so long that every board in his ship, every plank, every mast, every nail, was replaced eventually. Except, instead of waiting for them to break, they were taken off. If every piece was kept and put back together, which one was his ship? The original pieces or the rebuilt one? This story provides the name of the space station your character finds itself stranded on. In the (much grittier than the movie) Oz books, the Tin Woodsman is a product of an evil spell that made him lop off parts of his body every time he swung his axe. Later in the tale, Woodsy finds his lover living with the sewn-together old him. The Swapper resonates: if you are one consciousness, which of your clones is "you"? If you force one of them to die, did you commit murder? Someone is dead, but you still live. Did you commit suicide? What really happened?
The game pushes forward with a narrative that brings this to light. As time goes on, your lone survivor runs into one other person, but who they are remains a mystery....
Gameplay wise, The Swapper keeps steady on a fine line of puzzle perfection. Usually, a few attempts get you to understand what you need to do to pass, though it may take a few attempts to actually succeed. It never got to the point of extreme frustration, but wasn't a walk in the park either. Much like Portal, the game has a mechanic and does it well, making it's brief length a message of quality over quantity.
The Swapper provides an eerie, gripping story that, with a bit of introspection, makes you really wonder what it means to exist.
4 out of 5
The Swapper is available digitally for PS3, PS4 and Vita and is cross-save and cross-play compatible.
The PS4 version was used for review. Thanks to Facepalm Games for providing a copy for review.