January 4, 2016 1:00 PM | John Bridgman
During the holiday season, it's easy for quality titles of various sorts to slip under the radar. Either overshadowed by bigger name releases, lost in the shuffle of end of year sales, or put on the back burner as folks reminisce over the past year, this sort of thing can happen and it's unfortunate. One such title that released last month on Steam is a clever puzzle game called The Swapperoo by Fallen Tree Games which combines familiar mechanics with a friendly aesthetic, and just a touch of something more devious.
The game is, at its core, about swapping tiles to match colours. It's a tried-and-true formula, and that formula is still as fun and engaging as ever. What it also does is add a few more twists, with tiles which have specific movement rules, such as being unable to be swapped around, or the direction in which they can be moved. There are drill tiles which completely destroy tiles they're swapped for, and round tiles that simply break when clicked on. Also, some tiles have skulls on them, and these tiles are your time limits. Each move lowers a counter on the skull tiles by one, and when one hits zero, that's game over.
The variety extends also to the objectives in the levels, with some requiring a certain number of tiles removed, or colours matched, or even a particular kind of tile to be removed. There are also Challenge Levels, which are more traditional puzzles in that they give you a specific objective - usually clear the board in a target number of moves - without having any randomness that the base game's levels have when it comes to tile spawning. Both modes are quite fun and very cleverly designed, and while the difficulty doesn't ramp up quickly, it certainly does increase a great deal over time.
Another nice addition are the special abilities in the base game mode which you can charge up by making matches and clearing tiles. You have three powers which can make or break you on a level depending on how you use them, and they add another layer of depth to the gameplay which I found very helpful to keeping the game interesting. One lets you swap tiles regardless of their orientation, another lets you delay all the skull timers, and the final, most powerful ability clears the entire board giving you essentially another chance at salvaging a lost position.
Adding to the charm of the game is its presentation. It uses flat colours and fairly simple shapes to go along with subtle embellishments on the tiles to make the game stand out visually without being obtrusive or busy. It's quite visually appealing and very inviting. It also features a catchy jazzy soundtrack that is definitely likely to get your head bobbing along if you're into it, though there's not a great deal of variety to the soundtrack.
What is also featured, and in contrast to the warm, inviting aesthetic and simple puzzle mechanics, is a somewhat Big Brother-esque metaplot that creeps in every few levels. Here the game takes a more sinister turn and the narrative reasons behind removing blocks gets called into question. It's maybe a little silly, but I enjoyed it for what it was, and I think they did well given what they had to make the progression of the game a bit more involved than simply more puzzles.
The Swapperoo is definitely fun and engaging, and I think the amount of variety it offers is enough to keep people interested throughout its duration. While the easier levels might be a bit too easy, when the game ups the difficulty it really gets challenging, and this should whet the appetite of puzzle aficionados for sure. It may reach a point where it gets too hard for more casual fans, but there's still enough approachable gameplay that you should get your fill of enjoyment before the challenge gets too high.