Re(?)Considered: Swamp Thing

Swamp romp on your comp. Uter. Computer. Well, console. Oh dear.

You're going to have to bear with me on this one. I know, I know - you have to bear with me through all of these. But this time, you're going to really have to bear with me. Because, and I am sorry for this, I'm coming to Swamp Thing in complete ignorance. Yes, I know, Alan Moore's Saga of the Swamp Thing, a seminal work of sequential art, a beautiful, pioneering paean to the potential of adult-focused comics. I'm sure. I've never read it. I'm so sorry. I haven't seen the 1982 film, either. A Wes Craven production, to boot. And I've yet to bother my arse watching it. Who am I, then, to review Swamp Thing for NES? In what possible context could I present a credible opinion? 

Developed by Imagineering, Swamp Thing is something of a late release for Nintendo’s 8-bit, releasing at the tail end of 1992. The software house is probably best known for The Simpsons: Bart vs the Space Mutants, which in my experience is one of those games that nobody really loves but everyone seemed to own. While Space Mutants offered a comparable side-scrolling experience, it bolstered its superficially meagre offering with unusual puzzles, enjoyable interaction with the environments and clever use of a host of purchasable items. Swamp Thing, while improving on the general “game feel” with stronger controls and physics, lacks all of the strange, esoteric nonsense that makes Space Mutants memorable. Here, you’re on a much more standard left-to-right platforming adventure.

Graphically, it’s fairly impressive to my eyes. Maybe I’m insane, I don’t know. But I like the look of it. It’s atmospheric and makes clever use of its limited palette, with smart colour choices resulting in a fairly convincing world. The sprites are big and chunky, and it’s clear what they’re supposed to be. It doesn’t sound as good as it looks, unfortunately – sound effects seem to be ripped straight from the aforementioned Bart vs. the Space Mutants. Releasing over a year and a half later, this struck me as unimpressive and downright lazy. Turn the sound down and listen to something suitably sludgy. Take As Needed For Pain, perhaps.       

In terms of its actual gameplay, I find Swamp Thing oddly compelling. It really shouldn’t be up to much, but I found myself wanting to keep trying even though I died over and over again. The slow movement of the titular Thing and the slightly awkward jumping set me in a truly oppositional mindset – the game is hard, but not unfair, with tricksy enemy placement from the off, requiring careful timing and a little bit more thought than most licensed titles have trained me to expect. The issue is, it’s not good. By most reasonable criteria, the game experience is a bad one. It’s stiff, it’s awkward. It’s too hard, it’s obfuscating. But isn’t that an accurate representation of the Swamp Thing experience?

Look, I haven’t read the comics. I haven’t seen the film. I was up-front about that. But I gather that the life of ol’ Swampy is a miserable one, no? He’s doesn’t come across as a happy-go-lucky chap. He seems to trudge through a painful life, beset by slings and arrows. And Swamp Thing for NES reflects that feeling quite brilliantly. It’s an ordeal, it’s a real challenge. It defies you to give up, but it’s never hateful, never directly obstructive by design. It’s – I imagine – a quintessential portrayal of the Saga of the Swamp Thing. It’s life. It’s all of our lives. A ceaseless trudge through a hostile world, beset from all sides by creatures, robots and flying knives. Well, that’s my life, anyway. And that's my angle, my perspective. That's why I feel qualified to review Swamp Thing. Because I am him. As are we all.

Then again, I personally look exactly like the Swamp Thing. You know what? It's probably that. Ignore all the other stuff I said.