What I'm Playing: Pirates, dungeons and clones galore
Scurvy Scallywags (iOS, $1)
Scurvy Scallywags is a match-3 puzzler. And a musical. Pirates are involved. The mechanics aren’t exactly going to set the world on fire, but clever strategic elements create a rather entertaining approach to a cluttered genre. The standard genre rules apply: match three or more identical pieces and they’ll be cleared from the board. New pieces flow onto the board based on the direction of the matches you’ve made—swipe a parrot to the left to complete a stack, and the entire row or column will shift to the left, with new pieces filling in the empty spaces. Your pirate behaves like another tile on the board, and while they can’t be cleared away they’ll flow about with the rest.
This is important: every so often, one of the new pieces on the board will be an enemy. Both your pirate and the enemies have attack values listed on their tiles. If the enemy’s attack value is higher than yours and they manage to sidle up alongside your pirate they’ll attack you, lowering your attack value further still, and sapping one of your pirate’s three hearts. You can raise your attack value by matching purple sword tiles; when it’s higher than the enemy’s, swap places with them to attack. You’ll defeat them (and lower your attack value a tad), earning some gold and experience points to level up and improve your abilities. Lose all of your hearts and your pirate will die: you’ll lose any levels you’ve gained, though you get to keep your loot.
It’s a simple premise, but that latent survival mechanic adds an interesting layer of strategy, as you’ll be shuffling your pirate across the board in an attempt to keep them away from the bad guys, all the while snapping up swords, and hunting for quest items (there are side quests aplenty). Scurvy Scallywags is the brainchild of Ron Gilbert, writer and director on games like Maniac Mansion and The Secret of Monkey Island—perhaps you’ve heard of them? The writing and songs are all rather good, and it’s only a buck. I for one am sick of match three games, but this is definitely worth your time.
Warhammer Quest (iOS, $5)
I’ll confess I’m not much of a Warhammer aficionado, my experience limited to the Dawn of War real-time strategy series and ogling intricately detailed tabletop figurines whilst browsing the internet. So Warhammer Quest took me by surprise. It’s a turn-based dungeon crawler, adapted from a classic tabletop roleplaying game that bears the same name. Your party consists of four adventurers: two melee fighters, a mage, and an archer. You’ll be travelling the world, exploring dungeons, picking up loot and thrashing bad guys, then scurrying back to town to sell said loot, buy new gear, and lick your wounds.
Randomly generated dungeons and events keeps things surprisingly fresh, as the experience (and the danger) changes every time you stroll into a dungeon. You’ll also be taking a learn-by-doing approach, as the instructions are a bit…lacking. Consider surprise attacks: every turn, an invisible die is rolled to determine if your party will be attacked by a randomly generated group of monsters. This can occur when you’re taking a breather between encounters, or even in the middle of a fight—I’ve let out many an exasperated sigh as I positioned my squad to avoid a pack of archers, only to have a fresh group of spiders pop up beside us to shake hands. You can flee a dungeon at any time, losing the experience you’ve gained, but retaining the items; I’d imagine this would come in very handy should you opt to play on the hardcore difficulty—where death is permanent.
There are in-app purchases, but they’re solely there to extend the experience. You can purchase new characters with new abilities to sample (though they’ll replace one of your stock party members), and a quest pack that adds new opportunities to thrash enemies. You can also buy gold, but as all of the items in town are randomized, there’s no guarantee that you’ll necessarily find something worth spending money on. Five bucks is well worth the cost of admission here: give it a go.
The Swapper (PC, $15)
The Swapper serves up the most intimate, visceral sort of angst with a rather simple premise: what is consciousness, anyway? If we take a perfect clone of ourselves and dive into it, are we now the clone, or is that mindless husk mimicking our actions us? Or something else entirely?
Questions abound, and this puzzling adventure teases out answers in the form of mysterious talking rocks, cryptic logs from the crew of a derelict space station, and good old fashioned exploration. Gameplay centers around the eponymous Swapper, a handheld gadget that creates clones of its user. These clones mimic your actions, and clicking the left mouse button lets you take control of them—hence, swapping. Your time will be spent collecting orbs to activate consoles and figure out what exactly is going on, using the clever swapping mechanic to sidestep obstacles, survive long falls, or climb up massive chasms, by artfully popping out a clone and leaping into their body in the nick of time. Fortunately, the checkpoint system is rather forgiving.
But it’s all very eerie. That atmosphere is suitably dark and brooding, but I’m far more perturbed by the sickening crunch clones make when hit the ground after a fatal fall, or the way the life seeps out of them when you make physical contact, or collect an orb and they’re all summarily executed. Chances are you were one of those clones once. Or are you still you, and just shuffling bodies? Anyhow: it’s a steal at twice the price. Set some time aside this weekend and dive in. If you’d rather not fuss with Steam, you can grab a DRM-free copy on Facepalm Games’ website at a discount—a Steam key is included.