It’s really interesting to see all of the ways that puzzle games have fused with role-playing game elements these days.
SwapQuest is a great example, managing to find a fun balance between the systems of an RPG and the classic tile-swapping gameplay of Pipe Mania.
Demons once imprisoned in a magic crystal have escaped, and it falls on the prince (or princess, depending on your selection) to retrieve the magic sword and reassemble the crystal to seal away these creatures. In classic Pipe Mania fashion, players must rearrange tiles of land for their hero to move along, avoiding the cloud of darkness that slowly creeps toward the player.
Treasure chests to open and monsters to slay, among other goodies, are scattered along each map, motivating you to meander a bit rather than shoot straight for the finish line. In terms of controls, both the left stick and directional pad can be used to move the cursor, while the right stick moves the player character. A very welcome option is to stop the player’s movement simply by pressing R1, and I found this to be a great way to regroup and re-evaluate the tile layout whenever things got hectic.
Defeating monsters yields experience points that levels up your character, and opening chests and completing quest-like side-objectives yield jewels for the player to spend on new equipment to boost damage output and defence. Upgrading your character is a necessary process if you want to be successful in boss battles, which are the highlight of SwapQuest. Instead of reaching a goal, the player must find a way to defeat the boss by navigating, avoiding their attacks, and dishing out your own, all on a single screen. While the typical stages feel a bit more arcadey and suffer from some noteworthy pacing issues (your main character moves really slow), boss battles truly allow for more strategic gameplay.
The PlayStation 4 version of SwapQuest features a two-player local co-op mode, improvements to the boss fights from the original version of the game, and the ability to swap between the original 8-bit aesthetic to a smoother, high-resolution graphical style. Swapping between art styles is linked to a single button press, and while I found myself playing mostly with the retro-styled visuals, I found the clean appearance of the other style pleasing in its own right.
Sure, SwapQuest is nothing revolutionary, and the slow pace of some of the stages might cause the game to feel repetitive after a while. Repeating levels to grind and complete quests might also add to the tedium. At the same time, however, it’s a charming, bite-sized adventure with some genuinely fun boss battles in a form factor that won’t break the bank. Pipe Mania fans and puzzle junkies are likely to find something here they enjoy, even if only for an afternoon.