Game: Swaps and Traps
I would like to preface this review with an important forewarning: if you have anger issues, stay far, far away from Swaps and Traps, because it has the potential to send you into a flying rage and straight to a therapist. When you then explain you are furious at ‘spikes’ and cannot collect the ‘cursed keys’ because of an ‘enchanted hat’, they will probably try to declare you clinically insane. But that’s the most appealing quality of Swaps and Traps: how insanely good it is.
Swaps and Traps goes by the book of holy arcade commandments: thou shalt use simple controls, thou shalt make gameplay hard to master, and thou shalt entertain players with short levels. On TeamTrap’s main menu are 90 stages of ledge-hopping, arrow-dodging, cannon-blasting mayhem stretched out across three domains.
Content wise, that’s very decent. But then you have a ‘desserts’ menu, which consists of 13 bonus stages that aren’t so sweet. They’re not impossible, but they will test your patience. A lot. You see, Swaps and Traps follows in the footsteps of Super Meat Boy by implementing a one hit death policy, a mechanic which tends to split players into two main groups: (1) difficult platformer masochist (2) anti-brutal activist.
Based on how much fun I had, I must align myself with the former. Despite some of its more unforgiving challenges, Swaps and Traps gets its 2D hooks into you early and effortlessly, really nailing that “just one more try” feeling. The architectural design of each stage is varied and visually satisfying; cartoonish graphics that would be very welcome in any flash game help pull off a goofy charm. Yet the insane part, or the way it manages to distinguish itself in a sea of 2D platformers, is the ‘swap’ element in its gameplay. It’s TeamTrap’s secret weapon.
Each stage asks you to collect one or more golden keys in a perilous labyrinth and reach an end point, which sounds basic enough in theory, right? Wrong. Making contact with any key throws a spanner in the works by literally flipping portions of the screen, vertically, horizontally, at right angles or some combination of all three. It’s confusing, it’s frustrating, and it’s wonderful. This is trial and error gameplay at its best. The loading times are lightning fast, too, so no matter how many times you die (there was a level where I perished over 200 times), you don’t lose your momentum. Making Mike (this game’s Sir Lancelot) leap across ledges, quick-jump over buzzsaws and out manoeuvre spiked pendulums will force you to study the screen with utmost concentration and rotate your head when things go sideways. It will also give you a powerful adrenaline rush, the likes of which can only be obtained through struggle.
In Swaps and Traps, timing, precision and memory are your greatest assets. You’ll be able to fluke some stages, but there’s a silky smooth difficulty curve that demands skill. Hardcore platformists will appreciate it and quickly turn it into a speedrunning delight, but it’s open enough that casual players can enjoy it too. The rocking soundtrack is appropriately energetic, but the gameplay is where it’s at. You do get cutscenes a few times, which are hilariously done and fit Swaps and Traps‘ crazy personality. Mike’s archnemesis, Divider, is an exceptionally cool villain. If you felt pity for Jessie and James whenever they failed to abduct Pikachu, you’re going to love his maniacal mocking.
There’s very little to fault here overall. Minor nitpicks of mine are the tiny delay between button activation and character jump, and the unexpected difficulty spike in the first stage of Divider’s Den — much more gruelling than subsequent stages or the initial stages of the former two domains. The rest are suggestions, like expanding the number of domains, including a level editor, and a quick restart button for speedrunners who make an accidental stumble.
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If you loved Super Meat Boy and are just itching for Super Meat Boy Forever to come out, do yourself a favour and get this now. I’m serious. For the amount of content you’re getting, the price tag is excellent. Swaps and Traps is fiendishly challenging and borderline infuriating in the most delicious way. Accessible to casuals and platforming veterans alike, it serves up hours of 2D platforming greatness that could easily spawn a sequel. Strongly recommended.
Swaps and Traps is out now on Steam for $8.99 USD.
Full Disclosure: A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for purposes of this review.
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