Developer: Illusion Labs
Price: $4.99
Version Reviewed: 1.0

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★★★
Game Controls Rating: ★★★★☆
Gameplay Rating: ★★★★☆
Re-use / Replay Value Rating: ★★★★☆

Overall Rating: ★★★★½

Depending on the type of casual gamer you are, you are either going to love Sway or curse the day you bought it and throw your iPhone down with frustration. If you pay attention to consoles at all you’ll have heard the argument before – just go listen to some podcasts or read a few forum posts about Mirror’s Edge to see the froth-inducing back-and-forth to which I’m referring. What it boils down to is this: do you like games that present a challenge in the midst of the stage where you’re forced to rinse-and-repeat a hundred times until you eventually either get lucky or become a Zen Master of the puzzle you’re stuck on? If so, then the later stages of Sway are just for you. Since my score for the game is at the top of the page, I think you see where my tendencies fall.

Illusion Labs, the makers of Touchgrind, have released another innovative game for the iPhone / iPod Touch platform. The premise of the game is that the world of Sway has been blown to pieces on accident by the local scatterbrained wizard, and so you must help Lizzie the Lizard navigate the scattered shards of her world and save her friends. You do this by “swaying,” a unique mechanic wherein you must swipe your thumbs in an arc back and forth across the screen, causing Lizzie to swing like a monkey through 15 levels of varying themes and difficulty.

The early game of Sway is very impressive, invoking that feeling you had when you played Rolando for the first time. Something just feels “right” about the mechanics of Sway from the outset, giving it that feeling of homebrew that could only work on this platform. Rubbing your thumbs in a swaying motion to swing the characters around the level is initially quite fun, and the added physics give the characters a very definite heft that can almost be felt beneath your fingers.

Sway’s overall graphic design and aesthetic is fantastic, with the characters resembling something out of Little Big Planet on the PS3. The levels are filled with fantastic textures packaged in themes – sand, metal, wood, and grass – giving each section of the game its own unique appeal. The accompanying music is nice and fits with the overall style, but they could certainly have used more than one song for the game’s entirety.

For the first half of the game, it’s quite fun to swing your way through what is essentially a side-scrolling platformer, but one unlike any you’ve played before. Saving Lizzie’s friends (you do this by collecting three keys found throughout the stage) unlocks new characters for you to play with, each with their own strengths and weaknesses (although some are more obvious than others). The game has an Achievements feature of sorts as well, rewarding you with medals the more you succeed at any given level.

The later stages of Sway are the ones that allowed me to work out my own issues of anal retentiveness via the catharsis of trying sections over and over again. Some may call this an annoyance – I call it a feature. And this may be where Sway loses some people. I’ve heard about other developers tracking how their customers play their games, and I’d be interested to see statistics from people playing Sway. How many times did they swing around in circles and launch themselves over that platform before giving up? Did a particular brick wall impede gameplay for great lengths of time? Was there a moving platform that people couldn’t grab ahold of for minutes on end? Did anyone slam their iPhone down in disgust? It would certainly be interesting to study. But nevermind that, I’ll be over here plunging to my death for the 30th time, quite certain that on the next circular launch I’ll grab that damn ledge.

Gameplay video:

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