Review: Swordship – Challenging, high-speed, ‘Dodge ‘Em Up’ in style

Swordship looks like something out of the Wipeout universe, except here’s the race for your life. With buttery-shaded graphics and a great ambient soundtrack, it’s stylistically polished. The frame rate maintains a perfect 60fps, with its industrial setting changing between cities and the color of seas moving through several pastel shades.

In a post-apocalyptic future, the Lucky Ones have taken root in gigantic cities under the seas. Rogue pilots fighting for the castaway race the waterways in search of stray containers, grabbing them when they surface and delivering them through a portal. Hooked to ‘dodge ’em up’, Swordship is just that, locking you into a choppy rectangular area where you use everything at your disposal to stay afloat.

After deducting the occasional smart bomb or stun weapon, you have no weapons, and the idea is to trick enemy drones, laser turrets, minesweepers, and cannons, among other things, into accidentally killing each other. This includes, for example, letting mines track you while camping near the gun turret, watching the radius of the spherical blast and listening for pitch changes, before pulling the breech as the blast takes the turret with it. Creating combos with this technique often leads to great rewards. When navigating the relentless ocean floor, scuba diving—which allows your craft to temporarily submerge underwater—is your ticket to freedom from imprisonment. Time it right, and it will save your skin. If you get it wrong, you’ll evaporate in the blink of an eye.

Swordship is a challenging game, geared towards experts. Although you can customize the response speed of your ship and your enemies, there is only one real difficulty setting, and it doesn’t stick, and the name of the game is score – which is why the lack of online leaderboards is so baffling. If you can make it to the fourth city, which requires dedicated training, you can consider yourself advanced enough to go the distance. Some may, unfortunately, get frustrated before getting to this point. One minor gripe is that there is no D-pad control option, which some may prefer over the analog sticks.

The game offers ship upgrades between stages with an abundance of extra lives, and at the end, you will be rewarded with a newer vehicle. Hardcore gamers can choose to trade life rewards for points – a risk-reward scenario that keeps you living on a knife’s edge for the latter half of the game. Each city introduces new enemy types with different behaviors and even custom weather conditions, creating a unique character for each new area, and requiring you to strategize and act differently in each one.

The setup of destroying enemies with their ammo is satisfying, and when you first pull off the ‘quad trick’, shooting across the screen as the instantaneous camera, dynamically shifting to take in the carnage, is thrilling.

Swordship is a clever, original and interesting concept. It looks good, looks good, and works well. There is just one nuisance to RNG and that means that while you can learn enemy behaviors, sometimes you get lost in battle. Even camera switching and slowdowns (which can be disabled) can sometimes confuse you about your position, resulting in sudden death. At the same time, though imperfect, her increasingly sophisticated and intense nature has great appeal for hit hunters. And when she grabs that container, runs under a beam of lasers, detonates three mines in succession and blasts the screen skyward, she earns herself a Medal of Honor.

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