The Swapper Review (XONE)

The Swapper screen 1
The Swapper screen 1. Curve Digital

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The Swapper has been an indie darling on PC for a couple of years now and finally arrives on Xbox One via the ID@Xbox program.  This 2D platformer focuses entirely on puzzles and has no combat at all, which is like a breath of fresh air in an industry where "You need to shoot stuff" sometimes seems like it must be the first chapter of Game Design 101.  Indeed, The Swapper seems like combat would fit right in considering the game takes place on a creepy space station ripped straight out of the Metroid series or "Alien" films, but it instead tasks you with solving deviously challenging platforming puzzles while exploring and piecing together the story.

  I love it.   

Game Details

  • Publisher:  Curve Digital   
  • Developer: Facepalm Games
  • ESRB Rating: “E10" for Everyone 10+
  • Genre: 2D Puzzle Platforming
  • Pros:  Fantastic presentation; moody and atmospheric; interesting gameplay mechanics; satisfying puzzles; storytelling style; no combat!
  • Cons:  Wish the station was more real and less "videogame-y"; puzzles get pretty obtuse really quickly


You are sort of dumped into The Swapper with no real context.  Your character, an astronaut, is placed in a space ship, seemingly against their will, and later arrives at a derelict space station.  From there on, the story is told almost entirely through text via computer terminals you find along the way.  You'll learn about the strange rocks scattered around the station.  You'll learn about the device that lets you make clones of yourself.  You'll learn the history of the station, and others like it, and why they exist.

  And you'll learn how everything relates to the disappearance of the crew that is supposed to be there.  Some folks won't like this style of storytelling, where you have to figure things out on your own and read a lot, but it suits me just fine.


The gameplay is presented as a 2D platformer, but with an important twist.

  You find a unique item early on that allows you to create up to four clones of yourself, and also transfer consciousness to one of these clones.  When you transfer consciousness, that clone becomes the "real" you.  Interestingly, the clones all move exactly the same way as the "real" one, so when you jump, all of the clones jump.  Or when you walk left or right, they do the same.  The puzzles all involve manipulating the clones so that they are all pressing buttons in order for you to make progress.  Your cloning tool allows you to place clones and transfer consciousness at almost any range, provided you have line of sight, so each puzzles has you placing clones just right, moving when you need to, and hopefully reaching the item or exit you need to go through.  The game is kind of Metroidvania-lite where you explore a large connected map, but have to find key items - in this case orbs to unlock doors - to make progress.

The game gets more complicated pretty quickly, though, with different types of light that disrupt your cloning beam.  A red light blocks consciousness from passing, but clones can be created.  A blue light allows transfer, but not creation.  And when they mix and make purple, you can't do anything.

  Puzzles then have multiple stages where you're  sending clones to stand on switches to turn off lights, so that you can make another clone in a new area, and so on and so forth.  After a while, gravity manipulation is introduced, which cranks things up another notch. 

To say the game is difficult is putting it mildly.  Some of the puzzles are incredibly obtuse and it is possible to get pretty frustrated when the solution doesn't become apparent even after multiple attempts.  Of course, it is also one of those games where you'll put it down for an hour and come back and solve that same mind-bender on the first try.  The game starts out challenging and ramps up from there.  Each puzzle really only has one solution where you have to do things in a precise order, which is sort of disappointing compared to a similar game like Portal where puzzles can have a wide range of solutions. 

It also troubles me a bit that the space station doesn't feel like a real place.  This was supposedly a place where dozens (or hundreds) of people lived and worked, but nothing about the layout makes realistic sense.  It is just a collection of puzzle rooms connected by hubs with the keys to the doors scattered all over the place.  It would be impossible to live here.  Kind of like the Spencer Mansion or Police Station in Resident Evil 1 and 2 - the architects behind these places need to be fired.  This is an odd nitpick that can apply to lots of games, I'll admit.  Just wanted to throw it out there.

Graphics & Sound

Visually, The Swapper is a fantastic looking game.  The 2.5D world looks great with each area of the station - or each puzzle room at least - having a distinct look.  Lighting is also incredibly well done throughout.  The game has a very dark and creepy vibe that works well.  You expect some slimy alien enemy to appear at some point, but that, thankfully, doesn't happen.

The audio really deserves credit for creating a lot of the atmosphere in the game.  It really sounds like a creaky empty space station.  The music is also just perfect and picks up and changes at all of the right moments.

Bottom Line

The Swapper is the latest in a trend of games coming to Xbox One (along with Nero and Lifeless Planet, among others) with a focus on exploration and story and puzzle solving rather than combat, and I couldn't be happier about that fact.  If you want something other than another shooter or action game, The Swapper is worth a look, especially at the $15 asking price.

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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