Swarm Review

By Jeffrey Matulef - Posted Mar 30, 2011

Swarm is an inventive mix of strategy, platforming, and racing. It's a bit short and simple and requires too much trial and error, but patient gamers and high score seekers will likely get a kick out of its easy to learn but hard to master concept.

The Pros
  • Unique premise
  • Exhilarating and chaotic setpieces
  • Lots of strategy
  • Dark, comic deaths
The Cons
  • Trial and error gameplay
  • Hard to keep track of units
  • Too short
  • Hardly any story

Swarm Review:

At first glance Swarm may resemble casual strategy game Pikmin right down to controlling a group of adorable little aliens collecting knickknacks to improve their vessel. The similarities to Nintendo's multicolored minions is only skin deep. Despite managing a squad, Swarm is a combo driven high score game with an emphasis on speed. It can be trying at times and it's over too soon, but its arcade sensibilities and madcap mayhem is infectious.

“The Needs of the Many Outweigh the Needs of the Few.”

The premise is that the titular swarm of blue googly-eyes aliens crash land on planet with an awful lot of factories on volcanoes. They need to amass their DNA that's been scattered throughout 14 stages in order to revive their hive queen, Momma.

Players control the entire swarm at once through linear levels, giving them specific commands to alter their formation. They can hurdle together to avoid obstacles or spread apart to increase their collection radius. They can also jump, run, dash, and pile atop one another.
The kicker is that while most of the critters are expendable there are benefits to both saving and sacrificing them. In order to unlock a new level, player's must meet a score quota. This is done by either collecting doodads liberally sprinkled throughout each level or killing swarmites. The benefits of sacrificing them are clear, but having a larger army increases one's odds of survival and grants access to higher terrain and bonus items.

It sounds like a delicate balancing act, but after a few levels it becomes obvious that the most important factor in racking up points is the score multiplier. As you collect points, your multiplier increases. But go more than a few seconds without collecting anything or martyring a swarmite and it starts back at zero. This adds a sense of urgency to the proceedings and encourages players to keep moving and never look back as their troop hemorrhages units.

Feeling Blue

The downside to this is that upon dying and restarting at a checkpoint, there often won't be enough opportunities in the level to attain a high enough score. This can lead to a lot of trial and error in later stages which players will likely have to be run through several times before memorizing the various hazards.

Guiding up to 50 creatures at once is more of an art than a science, but this rarely matters because if one swarmite misses a collectible, another will likely catch it. Watching dozens of blue blobs fall short on a jump is akin to a Super Meat Boy playback video and when that one lucky fella nails their landing its exhilarating.

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The biggest drawback to possessing this many characters simultaneously is that the screen can quickly get cluttered and sometimes it's hard to immediately notice where your surviving members are after several explosive barrels have wiped out the rest of the crew.
Elsewhere, despite the cutesy gallows humor of your herd being hilariously culled, Swarm lacks the satirical bite one would expect from its premise. There's no story beyond the 30 second opening and closing cutscenes which seems like a missed opportunity. The names of levels and achievements are clever, but a majority of Swarm's sadistic humor can be grasped in the first five minutes.

This shallowness is reflected by the game's scant length of about three hours to complete. There are online leaderboards and extra collectibles to seek for achievement hunters, but it's hard to shake the feeling that it ends abruptly.

Alien Ant Farm

Swarm is a game trying to serve two masters. It invites players to lean back and let the madness unfold only to slap them in the face with harsh score requirements. There's enough strategic options so skilled players can turn the odds in their favor, and knowing when to risk your flock vs playing it safe is half the fun. It takes awhile to learn its tricks, and by the time you do it's almost over. Still, one can't deny the pleasure of watching the determined swarm bravely triumph over the loss of hundreds of casualties to saw blades, electricity and fire in the pursuit of a glorious high score.