As far as concepts go Hothead Games’ Swarm is as simple as they come. Your goal is to guide your fifty ‘swarmites’ across varying levels of terrain filled with mines, falling debris, bottomless pits and nasty alien life forms collecting as many points and getting safely home to ‘momma’.
Along the way you all also be challenged with a various mini-puzzles and obstacles to overcome; using your swarm in various different ways to overcome your objectives. You can spread them out to help collect useful objects that much faster, huddle them together to squeeze through tight gaps and traverse across dangerous ledges and if you have enough swarmites at your disposal you can also stack them up to collect out-of-reach items such as bonus points and valuable strands of DNA code.
Your first play of Swarm will undoubtedly feel like rather a laid back experience, but as each level becomes tougher, or the need to trash your last high score becomes your primary goal, sacrificing some of the swarm to progress and garner those high scores is a must. Even with several re-spawn points dotted throughout each level, trying to find a balance between how many swarmites you can kill off while maintaining a high score with timed multipliers becomes quite the challenge and makes for much of the games replay value.
Clearly Swarm is a game of high scores and bragging rights; and if placing yourself at the top end of the leader boards is the very reason why you play video games then there is a lot that will appeal here. The most challenging aspect of Swarm is being able to execute the simplistic commands used to control your swarmites with absolute speed and precision as you guide them through the alien world they have found themselves in. The faster you are on the buttons, the more dextrous your decision making with each obstacle faced, the quicker you’ll rack up the points and max out your multipliers thus adding even more to your high score, pushing you further up the rankings.
As a puzzle-cum platformer it wouldn’t be unfair to draw parallels with Team 17’s Lemmings from yesteryear, and in terms of execution and presentation they do have a lot in common. However, while Swarm is both challenging and entertaining in its own right it lacks the character and clever level design of Team 17’s masterpiece. Also, and rather frustratingly, the sacrifice and reward gameplay is hampered by the pseudo-3D visuals which can often lead to miscalculated jumps and incorrect placement of your swarm during some of the more hectic moments, particularly where a group of actions in any given section of a level are required to proceed.
The biggest sting in the tail, however, is that for all its charm and somewhat likeable gameplay, at 1200 Microsoft Points on XBLA, (£9.99 on PSN respectively), it’s hard to recommend; particularly as what’s on offer is pretty straight forward and basic in its execution. Of course no one should expect untold levels of depth and character from a straight up arcade puzzle-game, but in the same sense no one should be expected to pay over the odds for something so simplistic either, certainly not when you can get Lemmings on the iPhone for free.