The Swords ($2.99) by Lee-Kuo Chen is an action game that deals with the ancient martial arts. If you are looking for innovative gameplay and love swordplay, then this is a game that you must check out.
Back when I was in high school, I had a thing for swords. I bought a few and tried collecting them, though I didn’t do much of anything with them afterwards. I think it was my obsession with anime at the time, and I thought owning some swords would be a cool hobby. And while it is, it certainly wasn’t practical, and I didn’t take the time to learn actual swordplay or martial arts like a few of my friends had done (more like kendo). Still, even though I don’t collect swords anymore, I still love admiring them from afar and find them fascinating. So naturally, when the news of The Swords hit my inbox, I was intrigued and had to give this game a shot. And I’m glad I did, because there isn’t anything else quite like it.
The visuals in The Swords are stunningly beautiful. While the game itself has fairly minimalistic graphics going on, I am much more impressed with the cutscenes that explain the story behind the game. These scenes are painted in black-and-white with a traditional Chinese art style that I’m all too familiar with. The backgrounds are a clean, off-white color and the black ink and gray shadows contrast nicely with it. The gameplay parts feel a bit like Chinese calligraphy, especially the beginning stages, and visually, it all just comes together as you go. The atmospheric music is captivating and adds that layer of suspense and action as you play, and the realistic sound effects are a nice touch. If you like games that are more like art, then The Swords does not disappoint in that department.
In The Swords, players will learn the history of a character named the Grandmaster, who is essentially a sword master that you hear of in legends. To learn the history, though, you progress through different chapters that contain several levels each, and these stages go by fairly quickly. It also teaches you the basics of the game as you go at a gradual pace, so you aren’t going to be lost and stuck. If you mess up or get hurt in battle, you just retry the stage until you get it right. There are no stars to earn or points to rack up — it’s just learning the ways of being a sword master and fending off enemy attacks. The game has three different game modes so you can pick your level: Novice, Advanced, and Master. The difficulty level can be changed at any time, though you lose current progress if it is done in the middle of a fight.
The controls in The Swords are simple and intuitive, though the responsiveness seems a bit lagging in more hectic fights. In the first handful of stages, you will learn the strokes of the sword, similar to calligraphy. To do this, you swipe anywhere on the screen to start the line, then when it reaches the end of that path, you swipe again in the direction the outline is going to follow it. The moment you miss is the moment you have to start over. During battle, you will see enemy blades coming in from all over the screen, and you can destroy their weapons by swiping your finger over them, preferably at the tip. You can break multiple weapons with one swipe if you’re skilled enough. Then you move on to “soft” swords, which make me think of things like Ivy’s Valentine Ivy Blade. These are blades that can twist and bend, surprising the enemy and giving you an advantage. These levels will require you following a path of “weaknesses” to reach the opponent’s own weak spot, but if you mess up and hit your own weakness, you’ll have to restart. As you play The Swords, you’ll discover many different types of swords, but they all require the same gesture to make use of them: swipes. However, any time you get stabbed by the enemy, you just tap to retry. Things start out pretty simple in each chapter as you learn the basics, but the action and pacing picks up rather quickly from there.
I’ve only started The Swords this morning, but so far I’m loving every minute of it. The art style is true-to-form, the music adds to the suspense of battles, sound effects are rather realistic, and the gameplay is innovative and challenging. Honestly, at first I wasn’t quite sure how to play since I missed a few seconds of the intro, but once I restarted and saw how to swipe, it’s been a ton of fun. It can be difficult, but that is the way of the martial arts, and it’s always fun to have a challenge. It’s like a Fruit Ninja but with a much more serious tone and theme.
I highly recommend picking up The Swords if you like martial arts and want an artistic and innovative game to play this weekend. You can get The Swords on the App Store as a universal download for just $2.99. There are no in-app purchases.