Hi there, ladies and gents. It's me, back at it again with another review! First up though, a quick fact because I learned a new word today and it's nice to share the knowledge.
The word is "Verlet."
Turns out that Verlet integration is “a nifty method for working out the equations relating to the motion of particles and objects in a molecular dynamics situation, or in computer simulations.” When you know this fact, the games title, "Verlet Swing" turns out to be a pretty apt one for describing the action. Another apt title might have been "Spiderman on an acid trip" but I digress...
There's no story, or set-up here, so it's straight into the gameplay we go, and it's actually pretty unique and really rather weird, both in gameplay and visuals. If you've ever seen the movie Lawnmower Man, or experienced early VR graphics, you might be familiar with the retro-futuristic style on offer here. Gameplay wise, each level is basically a speed running course and all the action is from a first-person viewpoint. Your character begins hanging in a bright, neon landscape with a glowing "grab point" in front of them. Stretching out before them will be an obstacle course of sorts, made up of bits and pieces of structure, with many random floating items and debris to weave through. The action doesn't start until you first move, so take time to examine the environment before swinging out. Somewhere in the distance, denoted by a beam of light from the heavens, will be a shimmering white portal, and this is the exit.
And between you and it, will be a whole load of weirdness. Like a serious amount. And it's all instantly lethal to the touch. Not only do you have to avoid walls, floors, ceilings and the like, you'll also have a wide and eclectic mix of other things to deal with too. You'll be avoiding porcelain toilets, dodging golden pharaoh sculptures, speeding through shoals of Koi Carp and zooming past pizza slices as you try to swing to the exit as fast as possible.
And yes, I did say "Swing", because that is your ONLY means of movement. No walking, running or jumping. You can't even land because touching ANYTHING is an instant restart. It's just you, your grappling hook, the open air and the realistic physics engine.
Controls here are of the "easy to pickup but difficult to master" school of gaming, so expect that when you go in. By pressing the right trigger you'll shoot out an energy beam that functions as a grappling hook of sorts. The right stick is used to aim and it can attach to a variety of different surfaces. Usually, light coloured objects can be grabbed onto, and dark can't, but the reticle will change to let you know, so pay attention. While swinging around, the left stick is used to speed up or slow down swings, and to help manoeuvre by pushing in the direction you wish to travel.
As said before, the game uses a relatively accurate physics engine and this means you'll really need to think about momentum, speed and direction if you don't want to swing into a dolphin and die. When you attach your grappling beam to an object, you don't go zooming towards it like in the Spiderman or Arkham games. Instead, you literally swing like a tennis ball hanging from a string. Grabbing something too far away will make the arc of your swing so long that you'll smash into the floor and die. Grabbing something too close can whip you back on the short "string", splatting you into the object you were attached too. Death will be a constant as you learn, but perseverance MIGHT get you through. Between the crazy layouts, the sheer speed you can go and the surreal obstacles, things do get really hectic. The entire gameplay is about linking these swings together, letting go and grabbing the next hook point, before effortlessly landing in the portal with a style that Peter Parker would be proud of, but it really is difficult to pull off!
Altogether there are 100 levels to complete, spread over 5 worlds, each with their own theme. This helps add some variety to the environments and does something to aid in the otherwise simple gameplay. Wondering what zany things would appear next was pretty fun and whether it's an aquarium theme, ancient statues or an arcade cabinet setting, there's always a surreal and rather trippy look to the visuals of each level. They start off relatively simple, layout wise, but quickly grow increasingly more complex and require total mastery of the controls.
And it's here that Verlet Swing might turn people away, because it does start to get frustratingly difficult quite quickly. This is partly a little niggle/annoyance with the auto-lock, it sometimes fired the grapple at the wrong point, and partly by design. The game is intended to be difficult, with levels that require loads of attempts to complete, but it very often slipped into annoying territory. I can see most players quitting WAY before they complete every one of the 100 levels.
Now, most of the time you'll be perfectly happy with just getting to the portal. This will allow you to move on to the next stage if you wish, but if you really are a glutton for punishment, there's also the online leaderboard to consider. You see each level is scored out of teapots (told you, it's weird) and getting 4 indicates a "perfect" run, one that's completed very quickly. You have a timer running constantly, this also tracks your best completion speed, and you can also restart instantly with "Back" allowing you to retry levels over and over quite easily. Aiming for these goals allows some replay value but seriously, just finishing at all on some stages can be difficult and I can't stress that enough. Getting 4 teapots on all 100 levels is an amazing achievement, and one I'll certainly never obtain, but the option to try is there for those masochists amongst us. Aside from the main game mode, there's also challenges but these don't shake things up much. Unlocked as you progress through the main campaign, these include things like "complete a world in one sitting" or "complete in X swings" and do add a little replayability, but I do fear most players will never get that far.
And what more is there to say? All in all, Verlet Swing is an interesting, but extremely hard, little game. It's one for the people who loved titles like ClusterTruck or Getting Over It. Games where one small mistake can mean a total restart, and making it look effortless is the real point. It has a distinctive style, with a retro look incorporating loads of weird and wonderful assets to swing through, and the electronic beats of the soundtrack fit well. It is a "practice makes perfect" kind of title though, the swinging concept sounds easy but is actually extremely difficult to pull off effectively, and I do think this could put off many players. That said, the game has a relatively low price point and will include hours of gameplay, so it's worth it that way. It definitely requires some patience and skill to get through but, if it sounds like your kinda thing, it's a pretty good purchase. Just don't expect an easy ride.
*Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purposes of the review.
Final Score: 6.5/10
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