Swap This!, being a cheap and cheerful puzzle game, doesn’t have a story. Your goal is simply to match colourful frozen fish together so that they can be freed; you’re not asked to worry about how they got there or why it’s your job to get them out.
Though my initial impression of the game wasn’t brilliant, it quickly grew on me. Swap This! asks you to pick a mode and puts you almost instantly into the action with only a brief summary of the mode you’ve selected. There’s no tutorial, no ‘How To’ popups, you mostly just learn as you play, though there is a helpful ‘Free Tips!’ section of the pause menu.
For those that don’t know, Swap This! is not your everyday Bejewelled or Candy Crush clone. You clear tiles – in this case, fish frozen in cubes – by moving identical colours together into groups of 4 or more. Once 4 have been joined, they will start to crack, forming a ‘chain’ that allows you to connect more tiles before it breaks and they are cleared from the screen. These don’t have to be adjacent tiles, either, you can swap any two tiles on the screen.
These twists allow you to turn a small group of fish with the same colour into a string big enough to cut the board in half, which will clear one side of it and net you a large bonus of points. It’s frantic, fast-paced fishy fun and before long I was chaining combos together freely and clearing entire screens.
After a couple of games, it starts dropping new powerups on you which, thankfully, it does a good job of explaining. These help keep gameplay fresh and expand your arsenal of tools to match fish and break boards, without overwhelming you with too much to learn in one go.
MODES, MODES, MODES!
Swap This! contains a surprising amount of depth, not just in the core gameplay, but in the different modes that it offers:
Minute Mode tasks you with scoring as many points as you can in 1 minute – though certain powerups can extend this. Wave Mode requires a certain number of fish to be freed per wave, in a time limit, increasing in difficulty with each wave. Fish Fight gives you the goal of clearing lots of tiles in quick succession, in order to defeat successive ‘boss’ fish in a tug-of-war style mode. Unfortunately, all three of these essentially have the same goal – clear as much of the screen, as quickly as you can. I found Minute Mode to be the best of the ‘timed’ modes, as it’s easy to get into but doesn’t commit much time. The other two, despite their subtle differences, felt too similar and their ‘depth’ wasn’t very gripping.
Puzzle Mode breaks the mould, doing away with a time limit entirely and instead challenging you to clear purpose-built levels in as few moves as possible. In total, there are 45 challenges in this mode. Only the Easy levels are available at first, but you’ll unlock Medium and then Hard difficulties when you complete everything in the previous difficulty. This was a nice change of pace, and an added layer of difficulty. Each level can be completed at a Gold, Silver or Bronze quality, depending on how many moves you take to complete the challenge, and some of these were not simple! Each puzzle appears to have only one possible solution to get the gold quality completion, and they even introduce new powerups and techniques as you advance through the three difficulties.
I WANNA BE THE VERY BEST
At the end of each of the timed games, you’ll be shown how your score matches up on a global leaderboard, which gives Swap This! an addictive “one more game” nature, taunting and enticing you to improve your score and climb the ladder. To get an idea of just how addictive this can get; I went from a score of under 300 in my first Minute Match, to currently holding the top spot of the leaderboard at the time of writing, beating out employee “Collo” – most likely Two Tribes co-creator himself, Collin van Ginkel. Put simply? Well, it had me hooked.
Okay, no more fish puns, promise.
HOW DO I WORK THIS THING?
Playing in handheld mode, the only option is to use the touchscreen to select which tiles to move around. Playing in docked mode on the other hand, requires using a single joycon as a gyro pointer, and aiming at the screen to direct your cursor like a Wiimote. This is the same way games such as Human Resource Machine and Little Inferno handle motion controls on Switch, if you’ve played them. Though accurate enough, the results were… adequate. It worked perfectly well for Puzzle mode, where you have the freedom to take your time, but ultimately it’s never going to be as effective as the reliable touchscreen controls. On that note, I didn’t experience any issues with the touch controls. They were responsive, well-calibrated and never failed me.
Although some may be put off by not being able to use the traditional controls of a joycon or pro controller to play Swap This!, the trade-off is understandable. The developers admitted in a reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) to experimenting with a traditional cursor, but said they found it was too slow to keep up with the pace of the gameplay. This is very evident when you play it – you need to constantly move tiles to opposite sides of the screen to play optimally.
A MOBILE PORT?
Though Swap This! was originally released as a mobile game 7 years ago, the Switch version comes with upgraded graphics, the new Wave Mode and some other small improvements and tweaks to gameplay. It does feel quite like it should be a mobile game, especially when you play it handheld mode, but this is an example of a mobile port done correctly. Two Tribes themselves said that “Swap This! deserves to be played by everyone, that’s why we made it cheap.” which is commendable in my book.
The audio in Swap This! is everything you’d expect from a fish-themed puzzle game. Calming sounds of waves lapping against a sandy shore feature in the game’s menus, while upbeat desert-island themed melodies will accompany you while you play – heavily featuring bongos, marimbas and brass instruments. The sound effects themselves are fitting and pleasant enough, though nothing to write home about. Overall, the audio isn’t very memorable but is also not intrusive or annoying; a pitfall that many matching games are guilty of.
Visuals & Performance
The visuals are crisp, colourful and cute. The sea-life aesthetic makes Swap This! very enjoyable to view and play, though occasionally the action can be hard to follow with so many eye-catching animations on the screen. Despite this, the game runs flawlessly at 60fps, with no stutters or slowdown noticeable in my playtime.
Somewhat surprisingly, the game supports screenshots, video capture and even cloud saves.
At under £1, you’re getting a great deal in my eyes. There are 45 puzzles across 3 difficulties, not to mention the replay value of trying to beat your own – or other people’s – highscores in the other 3 modes. I’m generally happy if I get an hour of playtime per £1 I spend on an Indie title, and I’ve already spent more than 3 hours on Swap This!
4 game modes, 45 challenging puzzles
Fun matching puzzle gameplay
Only a quid!
Some modes are too alike
Clunky docked control scheme