The Swindle Scratches that Spelunky Itch

The Swindle Scratches that Spelunky Itch

Size Five Games mixes hundreds of deaths and tiny, significant victories for a roguelike that'll have you saying "Just one more run."

In retrospect, it's not surprising Derek Yu's Spelunky rose from freeware curiosity to Game of the Year material: It introduced a new generation of players to the addictive magic of roguelikes via the familiar context of old-school platforming action.

Since then, the indie scene has exploded with similar takes on a genre that relies upon the careful balance of Risk Versus Reward: Crypt of the Necrodancer, Nuclear Throne, Faster Than Light--really, the list goes on and on. Size Five Games' The Swindle marks the newest entry in this growing craze, and feels a bit like Rogue Legacy with the Castlevania homages removed, and the character persistence reduced to a limited window of time. And even though The Swindle's take on roguelikes isn't strikingly new, Size Five Games definitely knows how to keep your brain screaming for just one more run.

The Swindle starts with a simple premise: Break into Scotland Yard, and destroy the new surveillance technology that promises to snuff out the future life of crime for any swindler. You're given 100 days to accomplish this feat, which essentially adds up to 100 different attempts at The Swindle's roguelike levels. And since your army of swindlers starts with no items, abilities, or cash to speak of, you're going to need to make the most of each and every day to draw that ultimate goal closer to your grasp. Resource management takes center stage in The Swindle, as you dive into levels, try to escape with your hide intact, and purchase various upgrades within the limited window of time provided. Once those 100 days are up, though, that's it: If you don't find your way into Scotland Yard by this point, the slate is wiped clean, and the game begins again from square one.

Like Spelunky, The Swindle operates via the familiar context of 2D platforming. Each randomly generated level packs itself with enemies, stores of cash, hackable computers, and various deathtraps, though the limited abilities you start with make it a challenge to access all but the most straightforward parts of these areas in the first dozen-or-so days. Ultimately, you want to make it out of the building and back to the safe confines of your escape pod without being spotted by enemies' cones of vision, though things aren't exactly over if a security guard spots your little burglar. During this alert phase, you're given a short amount of time to escape before indestructible police bots show up to make your life a living hell--and since your current character receives a multiplier for every heist they successfully pull off, staying alive can really assist with those expensive upgrades.

You're not completely helpless, though; the security robots have limited capabilities and move on predictable paths, so much of The Swindle involves waiting for the perfect moment to strike from behind with a perfectly timed melee attack. And the "rich-get-richer" upgrade path assures you'll soon have more tools and abilities to take out enemies efficiently, so long as you spend those early stages of the game alive. While playable characters aren't more advanced than circa-1985 Super Mario at the outset, playing well and earning cash can eventually net you abilities like double and triple jumps, radar, the ability to stick to walls, and access to tools like bombs and a blast of steam to provide cover. And since The Swindle doesn't force you down a prescribed upgrade path, you can pick and choose from these empowering options at will, and build a character type that suits your play style.

100 days--or really, 100 lives--may sound like a lot of time, but you can easily blow through them in just a few hours. My first 100 ended unsuccessfully this morning, as some early fumbling meant I'd only opened the second set of six possible level types, which just started giving me the cash I needed for some of the more significant upgrades. To be honest, it was a bit of a bummer seeing that progress wiped away, but I immediately jumped back into The Swindle with a fresh run, making absolutely sure I played as meticulously as possible. Really, though, compared to Spelunky's handful of lives and lack of character persistence, The Swindle feels particularly generous.

And that's why I've stuck with it: Spelunky ultimately demoralized me thanks to the embarrassing amount of progress I've made over the years. With The Swindle, though the challenge still exists, the pressure over perfectionism find itself dialed back a few notches. If I've convinced you to spend 100 days embroiled in a Roguelike life of crime, The Swindle is currently available on Steam, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, and Vita.

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