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Swordship Review

Post-apocalyptic postie

The highest praise a score-attack arcade game can receive is a player saying, “Just one more run.” We all know that it’s never just one more run, so the gameplay has to be simple yet engaging to lure us back in to climb that leaderboard again and again. Taking the classic arcade shooter framework and removing the shooting, developer Digital Kingdom has coined the term dodge ’em up with its addictive and stylish title Swordship. Fast, challenging and satisfying, not even a few RNG frustrations can prevent this game from being an arcade indie hit.

The world has gone pear-shaped, with the populace being forced into three huge underwater cities following the disastrous effects of global warming. Space is limited in these aquatic megacities, leaving some exiled and forced to scratch together a life above the sea on the burned lands. Thankfully for those unlucky land-dwellers, a select few charitable rogues pilot ultra-fast Swordships to steal containers transported between the cities, redistributing resources to the poor souls that inhabit the burned lands.

I’ve seen this screen more than a few times

The game’s story is explained with a few lines of text before your first run, but this means you’re thrown into the action without delay. Like the best arcade games, Swordship’s gameplay is straightforward in concept but devilishly tricky. Piloting a sleek ship that will have the Wipeout’s AG System lawyers fidgeting in their futuristic suits, the player bombs across the screen at an insane pace, attempting to collect several containers before the level ends. These sought-after containers aren’t just lying around however, they’re protected by a number of menacing machines that want to see your little yellow ship sink into the depths of the ocean.

Your Swordship doesn’t have any real offensive capabilities, save for a few unlockable abilities that I’ll talk about shortly, so you’re forced to get creative. The various machines will fire lock-on blasts, spew fire in a short radius, lay down mines and even create screen-wiping walls of energy that will destroy your ship in a single hit. Luckily, the Swordship is fast and agile, allowing you to cheekily cause the machines to fire upon each other. In place of conventional combat, this system is rewarding and incredibly satisfying when you pull off a last-second dodge, obliterating multiple machines in a moment of slow-motion bliss.

Alongside the ability to briefly duck below the waves to avoid incoming fire, your Swordship can also be upgraded at the end of each run, provided you manage to collect a container or two. Once you complete a run, you’ll be given the option to donate containers to increase your score and unlock permanent upgrades or bank them for additional lives and a single-run perk like larger collection zones or improved mobility. Seeing as though you start with no extra lives, which does feel a little rough, your containers will likely be weighted more heavily in that direction. Still, you can freely split your collected containers between the two options for a healthy balance of charity and self-preservation.

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The colour palette changing between cities keeps things fresh

A yellow line running vertically down the screen denotes where a container is about to be, giving you a brief window to line up your Swordship and collect the cargo. Tension is always raised when you spot the incoming container, especially when you’re in the middle of a dodge fight with several machines, but it can also feel pretty unfair at times. The RNG nature of each run can cause the containers to appear in completely inaccessible spots on the screen, ruining any notion of a perfect run or forcing a foul that ends in a life lost.

If you can make it through nine levels, split between three visual-distinct areas, you’ll finish your run with a boss fight…of sorts. A huge, screen-filling machine tricked out with more lasers than an EDM set is your final challenge, tasking you with surviving long enough to hit back against it with an EPM blast. This last hurdle will test all the skills you’ll cultivate throughout each level, and the relief, once you take it down, makes it all worth it. From start to finish, each run can be completed in around 20 minutes, making it a snappy affair that keeps your attention at all times and doesn’t drag on.

The slow-mo dodges make you feel like a badarse 

Swordship is recommendable based on its gameplay alone, but it certainly doesn’t hurt that it’s an audio-visual winner as well. Bright and vibrant colours and a strikingly bold visual style make every level exciting. The futuristic and elegant design of the Swordship makes the brutalist enemy machines feel even more menacing in comparison, making it all the more satisfying when the camera zooms in for a slow-motion explosion at random moments during your run. Swordship’s style is simple, yet beautiful and instantly recognisable, allowing it to stand out from similar top-down indie titles.

Final Thoughts

Removing the combat from a shoot ‘em up is a bold choice that manages to pay off with Swordship. The fast and responsive movement and reliance on wit over brute force create an additive and challenging gameplay loop that kept me coming back time and time again. The occasional frustrating moment can be found when the RNG decides to play rough, and defaulting to one life feels a bit savage, but these are minor gripes when all is said and done. Swordship is a fantastic indie arcade title that will have leaderboard chasers salivating.

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Reviewed on PS5 // Review code supplied by publisher

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Swordship Review
Delivery Dodger
Swapping out shooting for dodging, Swordship is a clever score-attack arcade indie title that’s as mechanically solid as it is visually striking.
The Good
Combat-free gameplay is fast and fun
Slick movement and creative perks
Choice-based progression
Bright and stylish visuals
The Bad
RNG can ruin a run entirely
Lack of visual customisation for the ship
Late-run difficulty spike might frustrate some
8
Get Around It
  • Digital Kingdom
  • Thunderful Publishing
  • PS5 / PS4 / Xbox Series X|S / Xbox One / Switch / PC
  • December 5, 2022

Swordship Review
Delivery Dodger
Swapping out shooting for dodging, Swordship is a clever score-attack arcade indie title that’s as mechanically solid as it is visually striking.
The Good
Combat-free gameplay is fast and fun
Slick movement and creative perks
Choice-based progression
Bright and stylish visuals
The Bad
RNG can ruin a run entirely
Lack of visual customisation for the ship
Late-run difficulty spike might frustrate some
8
Get Around It
Written By Adam Ryan

Adam's undying love for all things PlayStation can only be rivalled by his obsession with vacuuming. Whether it's a Dyson or a DualShock in hand you can guarantee he has a passion for it. PSN: TheVacuumVandal XBL: VacuumVandal Steam: TheVacuumVandal

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