The Swapper is an indie puzzle game with light platforming elements and a unique visual artstyle. Don’t roll your eyes; I know you want to. While I have to admit that this particular kind of game has become a bit tired over the last few years, I still think The Swapper is a fantastic product, one worth your time if you’re willing to give it a look.
As a puzzle game, The Swapper is mostly about its puzzles. There is no combat to speak of and death is a rare thing (with a very forgiving checkpoint system). The mechanic here is a device, the titular Swapper, that lets you create up to four copies of yourself. As you move about, so do all of your current clones in the same direction. Your device can also swap your control between the various clones. An important note to make is that you can’t take back a clone’s creation with a simple button press, as it would simplify several of The Swapper’s puzzles. Your only options to recover clones are to kill the clone–usually via dropping them from high ledges–, touch them with the body you have control of, or touch a checkpoint, which instantly resets the puzzle to its original state. Each of the puzzles has the same goal: reach the orb, used for powering various gates that bar your progression, with the clone you control. Touching the orb with a non-controlled clone does nothing. The puzzles start off extremely simple and predictably get harder as you progress. Colored mist becomes an issue with later puzzles: red light prevents you from swapping to anything within that light, blue light barring creation of copies in that area, and purple light blocking both these actions. Through a variety of switches that move barriers or dissipate the colored fog, block pulling, and clone manipulation, you must figure out the way to touch each orb.
I think it’s key to note that you never get any new abilities in The Swapper. You can always create four clones and swap between them–nothing more, nothing less. One minor new mechanic pops up near the end, but the game really that different with it in play. I really liked knowing there were no more tricks to find because it let me know that I could solve any puzzle immediately. If the puzzle seemed impossible, it was through my incompetence and my incompetence alone. To be fair, however, not many of the puzzles were difficult enough to annoy me (only one kept me stumped more than a few minutes). Later puzzles scale the difficulty by trapping one or several of your clones in an area that leaves them out of play for the puzzle at hand. These tended to be the more frustrating ones, as you often get so very close to a solution, only needing that one extra clone to succeed. Of course, there is always a way to solve it. The biggest puzzle headaches, however, come from those puzzles that need a bit of precision in lining up clones, especially since your movement makes the clones shift too; in these, one misstep requires you to do the whole thing over again. I think these puzzles could have been handled a bit more elegantly, as they hurt what is otherwise a fantastically crafted puzzle game. Thankfully, these annoying puzzles are few enough that the overall experience is a great deal of fun; it challenged me just enough to be rewarding and only required one anger-induced Youtube visit for a solution.
The Swapper takes place on a derelict space station. This station’s original mission was to scan the nearby planet for anything interesting to study. What they found, and brought onboard, were the Watchers, creatures that resemble rocks but share some strange hive-mind. This ability somehow affects the minds of everyone on the ship and leads to a steady thinning of the ship’s crew from insanity-related deaths. You quickly find the Swapper device and use it to try and escape from the station. The story is told through very sparingly-used radio chatter and text logs scattered throughout the station. Due to the nature of the Swapper, a device that allows you to create clones of yourself and swap your consciousness between them, some interesting moral quandaries are raised. For instance, when you drop one of your clones off a high ledge, watching their body crumple and dissolve, did you just kill a person? Or was the clone devoid of a soul and moving only through your guidance? Is it sadistic of you to drop these clones to their deaths just to solve a puzzle? These themes build and build as you progress to the ending, which poses an interesting choice to be made along these lines. It’s one of those stories that leaves a lot of questions and doesn’t like to fill in the gaps, but it fits in so perfectly here that I didn’t care. It made me think about some very intriguing concepts that I had never considered before.
The overall tone of The Swapper is quite eerie. Everything about the game is dripping with atmosphere. The artstyle is quite unique, as it was built through claymation. It looks rough around the edges and textured but in a good way, giving every object a good deal of flavor and realism. The amount of layering used in the backgrounds is also quite striking at times, almost like a diorama that you’re peering into through your screen. The music is perfectly sparse, rising and falling to match the events and keep the unnerving tone constant through the length of the game. It doesn’t get in the way, something I like in an atmospheric game like this, as frantic scores often remind me I’m playing a game. Even the the somewhat low-res look and font choices in the menus add to the overall feel. It’s a fantastic overall aesthetic made all the more impressive knowing that it comes from such a small studio.
The Swapper is a fantastic package. While the creepy space station tone has been done in games before, I have rarely seen it done so well. The claymation design is something that is absolutely worth seeing, if only for the skillful usage of detail and layering at work. The story is interesting enough to make you think, and the puzzles are well-designed and fun to solve. It doesn’t overstay its welcome either, only taking about four or five hours to complete. All in all, it’s an extremely well-designed indie puzzle platformer; if you aren’t completely tired of those, I highly recommend The Swapper.