My current high score in Swarmlake is 2,024 points, which amounts to almost 5 minutes of play. That might not seem like much, but for Swarmlake, an arena shooter from Dominique Greishofer (developer of the excellent Refunct), that’s a long time.
Swarmlake pits you against an endless horde of foes, testing your ability to survive against unbeatable odds. It’s kind of similar to Devil Daggers. The difference being that Swarmlake isn’t terrifying — in place of demons and creepy sounds are orbs and triangular foes and catchy tunes — and doesn’t wait to get the good parts. Also, its arena is seemingly infinite; more tiles appear as you approach the edge, preventing you from being backed into a corner, which is extremely helpful.
Swarmlake begins with a bang — literally. With a click of the mouse, your gun locked to the ground, you fire a shotgun blast and bounce into the air and begin unloading on everything in sight. Enemies begin pouring in from all directions, clusters of round or triangular shapes converging on you faster than you can hope to slay them. Within seconds what begins as a couple of clusters becomes a massive swarm that constantly threatens to overtake you.
Your gun automatically fires an endless stream of bullets once the action starts, letting you only worry about pointing it in the right direction while you run and bounce about. Survival is the most pressing task, but you’re also trying to collect gems dropped by fallen foes to increase your score. Trying to retrieve them while fending off the encroaching horde is easier said than done. Half the time I try to make a run on them, I end up being overrun. The enemy numbers grow so quickly that any second spent not blasting through them only increases their chances of victory. Anytime I settled into a rhythm that seemed to work (albeit only just), I inevitably ended up getting greedy. Time and again, one second too long spent collecting gems is all it took for the swarm to engulf me.
The game then is a delicate balancing act — and an absolutely thrilling one at that. But despite the frantic pace, Swarmlake is actually pretty easygoing. Because the game jumps straight into the action, it avoids the slow build of tension as the action ramps up. You’re not playing through the slower early-goings waiting to get to the point where you last failed, steadily building up worry that you’re going to screw up before then. You’re instead constantly testing your mettle against the game at its most fierce.
It makes Swarmlake a fantastic pick up and play sort of game. The basics are deliberately simple and easy to grasp, with every round generally lasting a minute or two at most, making it easy to play in short bursts. While there’s something to be said for games taking things slow, in Swarmlake’s case, the immediacy of the action works in its favor. The core loop is served well by how quickly you’re able to jump back in after failure and try again, able to instantly get back into the heat of the action without delay, because the ensuing chaos is the appeal. Having to work your way back up to that point would only diminish it.