I do like it when a new and interesting indie title pops up for review. From developer Digital Kingdom and Thunderful Publishing comes Swordship. A game that has a really unique angle, a shoot ’em up without the shooting… so just an ’em up then? Yup, it does sound a bit WTF, but it works and plays brilliantly.
“Swordship is a futuristic lightning-fast dodge’em up which flips the script on the traditional arcade shooter. Turn both the tide of battle and enemies on themselves by dodging, weaving and diving your way through an onslaught of enemies hell-bent on tearing your Swordship apart.”
A dodge ’em up is how the devs like to describe Swordship, a very apt descriptive it is too. I guess I had better explain how it works. You control the titular Swordship in some very fast-paced, arcade boating action. Skimming over the water, you have to nab containers and deliver them. Simple stuff… except for the fact that the waters you find yourself in are crammed with numerous enemies wanting to take you out. See, you can’t shoot, but they can.
So, instead of using guns to defend yourself, you have to use the enemy’s weapons against them. For example, a gun turret locks on to you and at the last second, you dodge out of the way so the projectile hits one of the other enemies instead. It’s a dodge ’em up. Thankfully, your little ship is quite nippy and able to dodge, weave or dive under that water for a second, even when the screen gets a bit hectic. Hectic is the perfect work to use here too. Swordship is a game that moves along at break-neck speed and hardly gives you time to breathe.
The basic gameplay loop uses a Rogue-lite mechanic too. The containers that you have to collect and deliver can be used to unlock upgrades. A big yellow line indicates where the container will be and you just have to align up your ship with that line and the container slots into place, quite satisfying it is too. Then, a few moments later and a drop-off marker will appear. Stay on that marker for a few seconds and you have just delivered a container. Bearing in mind that you have to do all of that while multiple enemies shoot at you and with you dodging to stay alive. Each stage has a set number of containers to grab. The more that you do manage to deliver, the more upgrades you can unlock.
However, it’s not as simple as that. See, between each stage, you get to choose to bank those containers for points and points unlock permanent upgrades, ship abilities, concept art and so much more, including weather conditions Or, you can use the containers as extra lives. It’s a kind of ‘pick your poison’ choice and adds a layer of strategy to the game. Keep racking up points for more unlocks or use the containers for much-needed extra lives, so that you can progress further into the game. Then, the points that you need to unlock stuff do not stack. So, if you need 10,000 points. You have to collect all 10,000 in a single run. Die and you have to start again from 0. This is where the whole ‘pick your poison’ and choosing what to do with the containers is paramount. Do you go for banking points or lives? Though, you can split that depending on how many containers you successfully nab.
Priced at £17 on PC and all the consoles and is available right now. Swordship is both simple and deep with a really tough but fair challenge. Addictive gameplay with that ‘just one more go’ thing. Great low-polygon visuals that blister along with a buttery smooth framerate and look particularly great with chain explosions. A real surprise game that I knew nothing about before I played it. Now, one of my favourite games of the year. Get this one if you’re a fan of frantic action.