Please Note: This review was conducted on an iPod Touch 5, and — as a result — the review reflects this fact. Although SwapQuest might run better on larger screened devices, I was personally unable to verify this.

Long ago the Kingdom of Aventana was under attack by a terrible plague of demons, and surely would have perished if not for a daring hero who showed up with magic sword and crystal in hand. The kingdom entered into a period of great peace after all of the demons were sealed within that crystal, and many years later the hero — and his magical sword — had become just a legend (leaving some to question if it ever happened to begin with). That all changed one day when the crystal began to crack, releasing the entire horde of demons — scattering the crystal’s shards in the process — all of whom were now free to plague the countryside once more.

screen480x480 (33)Now Wilbert and Wilma — the land’s young Prince and Princess — must make a daring escape from their besieged castle home, and hope to find the legendary sword that just might be able to set things right. They’ll have to move quickly — though — because a veritable mass of demons is slowly advancing across the countryside, and they’ll have to do all in their power to stay one step ahead of the creeping darkness. Unfortunately the appearance of all these demons has shattered the pathways up ahead, and thus it’ll be up to you to provide them with a clear path forward if they’re ever going to save their home.

Thus goes the premise to SwapQuest (out now, $2.99), a recent game co-developed by Constantin Graf and Jussi Simpanen (a name which regular iFanzine readers should probably recognize). The project feels like a mixture between a top-down action-RPG and the game play mechanics of the now ancient Pipe Mania, the end result of which is a unique and wholly compelling mobile experience. My biggest complaint with this game is that the controls weren’t nearly as precise as they needed to be, which I believe may have been caused by my screen not being large enough (but more on this further down).

Now — before you begin seeking out the legendary sword that might save your realm — you’ll first have to choose between controlling Wilbert or Wilma, with the primary difference between the two being how they appear in-game. After that you’ll need to select which class they are, with each class beginning with a different starting stat distribution — a different outfit — and a different beginning perk and/or passive ability. Particularly enjoyable is the fact that later on — after collecting enough EXP — your character’s starting class will evolve into something else, and their outfit will change again after this occurs.

screen480x480 (34)Anyways, your primary mechanic in SwapQuest is that you may grab any map-tile currently visible — assuming there’s no enemy or obstacle sitting there — and then drag it elsewhere, which results in the two tiles swapping place. Furthermore, your chosen hero will walk as far as they can until they hit the path’s current dead end, at which point they’ll turn around start going back in the other direction. You can alternatively stop them at any time by tapping them (after which you may select a new direction), and they’ll also stop every time they reach a crossroad (waiting for you to select a direction).

Your hero will additionally begin fighting any creature they’ve successfully reached, at which point they’ll both begin trading blows — and possibly inflicting status ailments — until one of them dies. If things begin to appear too grim, however, you can — rather than risking death — order your chosen hero to retreat from a fight by touching the character and swiping away from the monster. Should a monster be successfully defeated, you’ll earn EXP afterwards — which could potentially cause you to level up — and the monster will also explode into a shower of valuable gems that will rain down all over the level.

You’re going to want to gather up as many of these gems as you can since they’re used to buy better equipment, enhance the perks of gear you already own, as well as power-up your passive and active abilities. Although you could simply create a path that would enable your hero to walk over to these gems, a far more efficient method would be to move the tiles they’re laying on directly in front of you. You’ll have to be quick about this — however — as you’ll continue to be assaulted by environmental hazards as you try to grab these, as well as have the eternally creeping demon cloud slowly loom ever closer.

screen480x480 (35)You can also uncover these lucrative gems either by leading your hero over to a treasure chest — which can’t be manually moved around — or by shaking and/or smashing bits of scenery, which is usually done by rapidly tapping on them until they explode into gems. Lucrative gems are also awarded should you manage to complete any of the three challenges set for each level, which can include things such as taking out X enemies — not accidentally touching the demon cloud — and even finishing within a certain time limit. Finally, you can find usually find — after each and every non-boss level — an optional special challenge stage wherein you may rake in a large quantity of gems for surviving a unique mini-game of some sort.

The one thing you desperately better remember to do — however — after each and every mission is to bank all of your gems on hand, assuming you didn’t first spend all of them on upgrades. If you die during a mission — which can sometimes be easy to do for reasons I’ll cover shortly — you’re going to permanently lose all of your gems presently on hand, and this can become a major setback since SwapQuest doesn’t ever let you replay stages. However, this isn’t being done to encourage the use of IAPs — as SwapQuest contains none whatsoever — this is instead being doing for risk-versus-reward purposes (since the amount of gems you currently have on hand tends to increase your passive buff abilities). A game being unforgivingly brutal is one thing, but it can really sour your run when forgot to save your money — or even buy anything at all — because you suddenly became overly excited to see what the next stage was like.

This is further exacerbated by the fact that the controls in SwapQuest will actively work against you, with the game often having a mind of its own in regards to which two tiles you were attempting to swap. When enemies are spraying projectiles at you — and the cloud of darkness is rapidly advancing — the last thing you want to do is swap the wrong two tiles, especially since time is always of the essence. While this could simply be caused by SwapQuest being built with larger screened devices in mind, it does nothing to change the fact that those on iPhones will often find themselves fighting the controls.

In the end I am left with a game that I really wanted to enjoy more than I did, as the unique concept — other than the controls, which may not even entirely be their fault — was certainly a breath of fresh air. Yet at the end of the day the bad controls — coupled with getting zapped for forgetting to save gems, plus not having a way to grind for more — can rapidly taint the fun you were initially having. Those willing to fight their way through the somewhat lacking controls — or perhaps already are own an iPad — should really still give this one a look, as the concept for SwapQuest was extremely solid otherwise.

iFanzine Verdict: Swap Quest –– by Constantin Graf and Jussi Simpanen — is a unique and engaging mixture of action-RPG mechanics and the game play of Pipe Mania, the end result of which is certainly a breath of fresh air. The only downside to this game is that the many on-screen tiles are all just small enough that your iDevice will frequently misread which one you were trying to grab, forcing you to fight with the controls. Couple this with a mechanic that heavily punishes failure and you have a mixture that can lead to some epic frustration, yet those willing to fight through the controls — or perhaps just have a larger screened device — should look into this game all the same.