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Swordship Is Dodgefest Done Right, But It’s Over Too Quick
Platform(s): PC (version reviewed), Nintendo Switch, Xbox, PlayStation
Genre: 2D dodge ’em up
Have you ever played a 2D shoot-em-up like R-Type, but you avoided everything that came in your way instead of blasting the problem directly? No? Well, you’ll get a huge-yet-short serving of that with developer Digital Kingdom and publisher Thunderful Games’ new arcade title Swordship.
Swordship is set in a future where thieves drive super-fast ships, called Swordships, and steal cargo from big corporations to give to the banished. Or perhaps hoard it for themselves; it’s up to you. You control the titular ship as you scroll downwards in 2D fashion, dodging enemies and gunfire while surviving the lightspeed trip worth 10 stages (called Lines). You’ll see containers up for grabs, highlighted by a yellow vertical line on the track; pick them up and deposit them at special yellow rectangular spots that pop up anywhere on the field. Yes, you have to do all this while being pursued by ships and waylaid by turrets.
How does one kill off enemies when you don’t even have firepower? Simple: you can trick enemies into friendly firing each other. See that turret right ahead? Just make it point to another enemy and let it kill off the target by accident. Your ship can also trip mines so that it kills off anything within its blast radius, or even get flying ships to bombard spots with a cluster of other turrets in tow. The swordship can also submerge underwater for a second or two to dodge enemy fire and lasers in the way. There’s a slight cooldown, so don’t spam it unless you know how the timing works. It’s not wholly unique, but it’s really fun in the context of piloting a thief ship, blazing through the water and finding out new deathtraps to use against your foes, one that’s entirely your opponent’s doing.
Your ship can only take one hit before it goes down, so every obstacle is deadly to touch. If you’re out of lives (procured by hoarding said cargo at the end of each Line), it’s game over: you have to start over. As such, Swordship’s gameplay is structured as a roguelike: you’ll get powerups aplenty as you keep going through each Line and city, but they’re all gone once your lives are spent. And when you lose a life, you need to start the Line over as Swordship eliminates the “victory through kamikaze” method of winning that comes with 2D shmup-like titles; I like this mandate a lot especially since enemy placement and patterns are random, requiring actual skill than memorization.
There’s a boss at the end, and with a single line lasting you less than 20 minutes if you make it out alive. The key thing that keeps you going in Swordship is the game’s unlockables: gather enough points by donating stolen cargo to the banished and you can unlock new difficulties, new enemies in certain cities, and new ship variants you can start off with. I just go for the Factory Issue for the extra points when collecting yellow particles, or the one that gives me two lives every time I keep a crate at the cost of powerups for the whole game.
You haven’t truly finished Swordship until you’ve unlocked everything, meaning you’ll need to bump up the difficulty for bigger opportunities for higher scores. Plus, the game’s simple-yet-stylized look and soundtrack are an enticing combo; it’s just immaculate seeing the game slowing time down just to get a good side shot of your Swordship dodging explosions
Developer Digital Kingdom definitely nails the arcade action fun while delivering something fresh thanks to the smooth and fast controls. Controlling the Swordship and dodging obstacles from all sides is a breeze, and you can even adjust the game’s ship acceleration at any time. If you feel like the ship accelerates too slow, just crank that baby up and you’re already controlling a ship as fast as that one shmup spaceship in the Thunder Force series.
Swordship is quick and easy fun that takes away the shooting in a shmup and focuses on defense and dodging. It’s a good lesson to learn, so it’s fortunate to know that Swordship does this right albeit in a very quick but replayable structure. Don’t expect much more out of a game that’s purposely light on story, but more intricate with its scoring and dodging mechanic.
Review copy provided by Thunderful Games.
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