Is Sword & Sworcery EP Kotaku's Game of the Year?S

I played a ton of games in 2011. More, probably, than any other year of my life. So when it came time to choose the best from among them, I spent a lot of time thinking back, sifting through the triumphs and the frustrations, the unexpected joys and the unfortunate disappointments.

Arkham City and Portal 2 and Skyrim are the common choices for Game Of The Year for a reason—all three are terrific games that deserve all the accolades they get. But the iOS game Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP was the best game I played this year.

Here's why:

WHAT I LOVED

It's All About Soul - Sword & Sworcery EP is the work of three distinct creative voices operating in unusually tight harmony. It is less a "videogame" and more of a tangible, holdable thing. It pulses with strange, beautiful life, and feels complete not just in its design but in its soul. Perhaps more importantly, it has a soul to begin with.

Oh, So Fresh - Innovation is not necessarily a game's most important attribute, but in a year that saw so many polished but derivative AAA sequels, S&S EP leveraged the iPad's unique attributes to show us something entirely new.

Mystery Box - Sword & Sworcery EP is a mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in an iPad. It ditches wordy fantasy lore and cuts right to the chase—a stoic woman is fighting to bring balance to a strange world with only her two friends and a dog to guide her. Why would we need to know more? S&S EP is a tantalizing mystery box full of hidden secrets and delights, one that cannot be fully explored without time, meditation, and a little help from your friends.

A Piece of Art - All games are art, but very few games contain this much of it, this fully realized. Superbrothers' (a.k.a. Craig D. Adams') pixilated artwork is lush, dark and organic, and Jim Guthrie's musical score is the single most gorgeous and evocative video game soundtrack of the year. Their seamless combination elevates S&S EP to a place of often jaw-dropping beauty, a beauty founded upon the emotional language of video games and unachievable in any other medium.

WHAT I HATED

Finicky - I wish the game worked just a bit better with the iPad and its touch-screen. The inconsistent navigation made some action-y bits frustrating, and accidentally hitting the "home" button while rotating the device sometimes led to irritating backtracking. Some of the stuff with the moon required too much finagling.

Twitterpocalypse - Yes, the #sworcery twitter spam was annoying. In the developers' defense, that was as much on the tweeters as it was on the game, and a symptom of just how new and fun the whole thing felt.

More Than a Mouthful - Come on, guys. Did you really have to name your game Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP? Cute, but also a pain in the ass. Why not go all in and call it Capy & Superbrothers Present: Sword & Sworcery EP: a Jim Guthrie Joint?

Take it easy on us critics next time. We have to type this stuff.


Stephen Totilo responds:

"Something entirely new"? See: Zelda. See: point-and-click adventures. This game excels as a good successor to those.

WHAT I LOVED

Every Frozen Moment - Unlike Skyrim, S&S EP is always gorgeous. Being a 2D game helps it, but that's not the whole reason. A great, unusual art style is framed well by creators who possess an eye and ear for naturalistic majesty.

The Year's Best Video Game Harp - Sorry, Skyward Sword, but I prefer the harp I discovered as I dragged my fingertips across Sword & Sworcery's skinny, trickling waterfalls. When strummed, those slender cascades made music. They were the best discovery in a game packed with lovely little wonders.

WHAT I HATED

Once Was Plenty - Earlier this year I observed that L.A. Noire was the kind of game that might not be fun to play a second time. Some readers charged that that was a faulty standard. I'm unsettled about that, but my gut tells me there's a problem when the solving of a game's puzzles provokes in me the sense that I'd be happier if I never had to solve them again. The magic was in discovering the solutions and not always in the doing of them (For contrast, see... Zelda!). If I am to name a game Game of the Year, I'll name a game I could enjoy twice.

This game's a gem, but my GOTY's something else.


Evan Narcisse responds:

How much did I love Sword & Sworcery? As soon as it came out, I gifted Capybara's game to a bunch of iPad-owning friends, who wound up loving it too. But, despite all that love, being one of the best iOS games this year doesn't make Sworcery my Game of the Year.

WHAT I LOVED:

A Genuine Surprise: Sworcery seems to appear out of nowhere. Even if you heard the buzz that preceded it, nothing prepared you for the oddly affecting experience generated by its elongated pixels.

Self-Conscious and Proud of it: The creative collective that made Sworcery wore their grad-school-thesis ambitions on their 8-bit sleeves, with quotes like "S: S&S EP is a crude videogame haiku about life, love & death." Groan if you will, but the lyrical, hypnotic game lived up to that statement.

WHAT I HATED:

Self-Conscious and Proud of it: Sworcery's self-awareness started off as charming but eventually fell flat from overuse. The tone of its text went way past clever and got to feeling precious and twee. Some self-editing would've stopped this slender experience from feeling annoyingly overwritten.

Sworcery gave me a world I enjoyed touching but I winced at some of what its inhabitants had to say.


Luke Plunkett responds:

This is one stylish game. But can style carry a humble little mobile game to victory against bigger and more substantial offerings?

WHAT I LOVED

The Slickness: You want a video game with actual style, S&S EP has got it in spades. From the colour palette to the distinctive pixel characters, you can take a screenshot at any single point in the game know, at a glance, what it is you're looking at. And how great it looks.

Sounds Wonderful: S&S EP recommends you play it with headphones attached, and for good reason. It sounds incredible. From pinging sound effects to a dangerously underrated score, sound is one area the game can confidently stand against big-budget games on consoles and hold its head up high.

WHAT I HATED

Kinda Stupid: The game looks great, and sounds great, and for the most part even makes good use of the touch-screen input, but in many other parts it's a trying, even boring experience, full of back-tracking and trial-and-error. For all its style, the game is often lacking in substance.


Owen Good responds:

I would nominate anything for GOTY before this art project.

WHAT I LOVED

Practically nothing. I had an extreme negative reaction to start this game and never got over it, frankly.

WHAT I HATED

Being made to feel like an idiot for someone's design thesis. I spent a solid seven minutes wondering just what in the hell I had to do to even start this game. The game, if this is even a game, alternates between singsong here-do-this handholding and leaving you bereft of any information for the simplest tasks. I have, admittedly, conventional and even simple tastes in video gaming. But tolerating a frustrating and boring game simply because it looks and sounds good is pretentious, not sophisticated.


Michael Fahey Responds:

This nomination made me seriously consider an iPhone game as Game of the Year. Just not this one.

WHAT I LOVED

Sexy and Mysterious: From afar, Sword & Sworcery EP is one intriguing game. Its haunting soundtrack lingers in the brain for days. Its distinctive visual style speaks of fine art at a distance; up-close something primitive and wild. It's a singular experience that can't quite carry a comparison to any other title.

WHAT I HATED

Perhaps Too Mysterious: Like many sexy and mysterious things, Sword & Sworcery EP affects an aloof air that leaves those expecting a more straightforward experience foolishly poking at their Apple device, afraid to ask anyone else for help because they so obviously "get it." I imagine the game as a beautiful and worldly woman, superciliously smiling at my clumsy attempts at flirting. I prefer something a bit more down-to-earth.


Brian Ashcraft responds:

If there was any doubt that the iOS could support more than flicking birds, Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP is it. This is a rare game. It is also not my GOTY.

WHAT I LOVED:

Sonic - The music (and sound design) in this game matches the pretty pictures streaming before you. I loved how you are forced to play this with headphones, sealing you off in the game world.

WHAT I HATED:

Tip-Tap: When I couldn't figure out the harder puzzles, I found myself just randomly tapping the entire screen, which would sometimes result in success. The puzzles should be difficult, but still solvable—and not by force alone.


There you have 'em, our arguments for and against Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP as Kotaku's 2011 Game of the Year. We'll have three more arguments this week, and then we'll vote and announce the winner on Monday, January 2.

Read the rest of our 2011 GOTY debates.