Weekly iCross: so have you heard about this #sworcery thing?

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Have you heard about this Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP thing? It rocketed up the paid iPad apps chart upon release last week (behind, of course, the latest Angry Birds version and GarageBand), and it’s likely to do the same when it releases for iPhone next month. If it didn’t catch your eye there, you most likely saw a virtual bombardment of twitter spam with the hashtag #sworcery…strange, silly messages that don’t make a lot of sense. S:S&S is like that. It’s weird, brief for a $5 game, and it encourages you to spam your twitter followers with the most adorable nonsense. They’ll hate you for it, but you’ll love the game.

After the jump, mix one part Zelda, one part Loom, and one part Miyazaki. Then post on Twitter.

This completely strange and oddly compelling game is fundamentally a point-and-click adventure. It sort of reminds me of old LucasArts adventures like Loom, where you didn’t know what everything on the screen was or what you should do with it until you poked madly around the screen for ahwhile. Blocky objects and backgrounds were described with short strings of text that, somehow, made a more complete world than the more lush CD-ROM based adventures of later years. If you think adventure games lost some of their magic when they lost their text, you’ll be right at home here. In the case of Sworcery, each message from the game is effectively a tweet, no more than 140 characters. They’re simple, direct, and use quite modern language and internet slang, in direct contrast with the odd medieval world you’re exploring. You can link the game to your twitter account — it highly encourages you to do so — and optionally tweet any message you see. Out of context (say, in your twitter feed or in a screenshot) they’re senseless and annoying. In the context of the game, they’re often quite amusing.

The inspiration from old adventure games is obvious, as are the cues from Zelda games. You’re basically gathering up a Triforce, after all. I think there’s more than a passing nod to the movies of Hayao Miyazaki in there, too. Like most of Miyazaki’s films, there’s a grand sense of hand-crafted charm, with haunting visuals and sounds that blend to form a world you can easily lose yourself in, even if you don’t understand what the hell is going on until the adventure is halfway over. The sylvan sprites you uncover throughout the game look like they’re lifted right from Miyazaki’s pen.

I’m not the type to gush over every piece of pixel art or chiptune I come across, but the retro low-res graphics of Sworcery really work for it. Just enough detail is hidden to make your brain automatically fill in the gaps. If the world were rendered with more precision, you wouldn’t get lost in it so easily. It combines perfectly with a lush soundscape and soundtrack that sucks you into the 9.5″ screen. Frankly, I don’t know if the game will really work on the same level when it’s released for iPhone and iPod Touch. Can you fit through window to another world when it’s only 3.5″ big? The game pulls all sorts of other tricks I can really appreciate, like tying the orientation of your device to a couple of game mechanics, and utilizing the real-world phases of the moon. The way twitter is integrated is kind of novel, but I don’t know if it really impacts the game as much as it implies. There’s a very odd and as-yet unsolved mystery at the end I wouldn’t dare spoil.

This is one of those games where part of the puzzle is figuring out just what it is you’re supposed to be doing, and not everyone has a high tolerance for that sort of thing. Just relax, and poke around. Once I learned to put away my gamer’s need to conquer everything as efficiently as possible, I fell in love with what is absolutely a singular experience in mobile gaming. It’s fascinating, strange, beautiful, and a little funny. It’s one of those small-team modern games, like Braid, that is likely to come up in “are games art?” arguments for the next few years. You’ll finish the game in no more than a few hours if you don’t get stuck for long, and you’ll basically see everything there is to see the first time through. Is it too short, too un-replayable, for $4.99? Get the hell out of here. You’re ruining everything.