Review: Swarm (XBLA)

Review: Swarm (XBLA)

When I first heard of Swarm, I figured it would simply be a twist on classic Lemmings gameplay. I kept that in the back of my mind all the way until I played the first level of the game, at which point I realized that Swarm is the closest thing to an antithesis to Lemmings as anything could possibly be. I loved Lemmings, but I think Swarm has taken the gold medal away for sheer unexpected brutality and replayability. Every time I load it up to play, I get stuck for minutes on end on the damnable menu screen.

Wait, what? Why am I praising it, then complaining about getting stuck on the menu screen? Well, the menu screen is, by far, one of the most entertaining and well built menu screens I have seen in a long time. The menu screen looks basic, with a list of options on the left, and a single blue Swarmite taking up the center and right side of the screen. The menu goes one step further, though, and provides a warning at the bottom right, asking you not to press the “Y” button. Of course, the easiest way to get someone to do something is to tell them not to do it, so the first thing you do is, in fact, press the “Y” button. This results in the giant blue Swarmite calmly lounging around on the screen to be brutally killed in various ways. Once your Swarmite dies, another returns to take its place, at which point the cycle starts again. So, perhaps it’s not so difficult to understand why I spend minutes on the menu each time I play?

Swarm’s gameplay is basic and simple. Your swarm is blown out of a giant blue bio-tube at one end of a level and sucked up by a strikingly similar giant blue bio-tube at the other end of the level. In between the blowing and the sucking, you traverse the level, avoiding dangers, gathering DNA, and amassing points. (As a side note, the previous two sentences were written naturally. They accidentally came out hilariously dirty.) Now, don’t think that simply getting through a level means you get to move on to the next level. Each level has a point target that must be reached in order to unlock the next level. If you don’t hit that point target, you don’t move on. The point targets are the source of incredibly huge difficulty spikes throughout the game, which may end up having you replay a single level many times trying to successfully unlock the next one. Once you’ve beaten a point target, you can go back and replay the level with the added score modifier of a time bonus. A countdown time bonus appears, slowly decreasing your overall score multiplier as you re-attempt a completed level. If you manage to beat the level faster than your previous successful time, your total score is multiplied by the modifier, and your leaderboard standing increases. Other than attempting to pass the point target, gather DNA, and attempting to make your way up the leaderboard, there isn’t much replayability to the game.

Swarmite death is a major part of the game. You can extend your score multiplier by killing off a Swarmite or two, but that’s secondary to the real fun of Swarmite deaths. The game has a series of awards for Swarmite death. Each death type has three award types: Death Medal, Mega Death Medal, and Progressive Death Medal (see what they did there?). The first time a single Swarmite dies from a particular death type, you get that death’s Death Medal. The first time a group of 10 or more Swarmites die at the same time from a particular death type, you get that death’s Mega Death Medal. As Swarmites continue to die from each death type, the counter increases for the Progressive Death Medal, moving through various stages of awards.

Swarm is a great game, and definitely worth purchasing. It combines platforming elements with a bit of the macabre in an incredibly fun and entertaining way. Yes, there are parts of the game where you may get frustrated at the difficulty spikes, but as long as you’re willing to keep playing, you’ll have no choice but to enjoy yourself. Developed by Hothead Games and published by Ignition Entertainment, Swarm is available now on XBLA and PSN for 1200 MSP and $15, respectively.


Temporary replayability
Hilarious mass murder
Entertaining menu screen
Huge difficulty spike
Distractingly entertaining menu screen
90 out of 100
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