It's an exciting time in the games industry. There are AAA games from big publishers, mid-tier downloadable games and even tiny indie experiences, all of which have the potential to be memorable, interesting experiences. Midnight Status has the makings of one such experience in Swap Fire, a first person shooter with an interesting hook, but unfortunately its seams show early on, with baffling control choices and a strange lack of standard options that leave the experience limited and often frustrating.
Swap Fire is a competitive multiplayer shooter with a twist: shooting other players doesn't kill them, it makes them swap places with you on the map. The objectives of the game's nine multiplayer modes are built around this hook, and when it works it's a lot of frantic fun. During "Swoccer," Swap Fire's answer to Rocket League (or more like Metroid Prime: Blast Ball, really), it's fun to swap places with someone just as they're about to score a goal. In "Drop Zone," the goal is to swap players right off the edge, making for lots of hilarity during couch co-op.
There's also a single player training mode that teaches you the basics, from shooting to power-ups to "advanced techniques," all of which actually do come into play in the multiplayer mode. The training is structured much like Portal, with an AI guiding you from room to room. It's a short but clever introduction to Swap Fire.
But cleverness only gets you so far when the rest of the game doesn't feel quite right. Aiming with the GamePad feels off; you'll go for precision, only to find that the controls are far too loose. If you're using a Wii Remote the game feels like an absolute chore to play. First person shooters don't feel right with JUST the Wii Remote, and there's no option to use a Nunchuk. This means that unless you have an extra Pro controller (Wii Pro/Classic controllers also work), three out of the four players are going to struggle with aim and basic movement. There's no substitute on the Wii Remote to help you aim, just a kind of strafe. It feels bad.
There's also a serious lack of options, which will disappoint many. Three of the four cups contain three modes, such as the aforementioned Swoccer, and the fourth - Galactic mode - contains all nine. Each cup is unlocked by getting a gold trophy in the previous cup. But there's no way to just quick play a game for you and your friends enjoy, which makes little sense given that this is primarily a multiplayer experience. In an era where shooters have extensive suites of options and features, limiting games to separate cups is disappointing and baffling. [Note: The review incorrectly stated at original publication that there is no way to play the games in any order you want; in fact an exhibition mode can be unlocked, which is done by clearing all Cups on 'Gold'. In our case we struggled to clear that requirement at the close in single player, having played with others earlier in the review process, but it should be easy to meet the requirement by playing a full local multiplayer session in that final Cup].
The good news is that there's a lot of personality in Swap Fire. The game's multiplayer takes place in the context of a game show, with a somewhat sinister host subjecting teens to dangerous experiments in the guise of games. The story is told through black and white comic book panels in the beginning, and later as talking heads before starting a multiplayer cup. The single player mode tries a little too hard to be like Portal, with a much less charming and interesting voice guiding the player from activity to activity. Still, it's nice to see such an effort was made to distinguish Swap Fire from a generic first person shooter by framing it with a quirky story and art. There are also several display options, splitting the screen differently and utilizing the GamePad in different ways.
Swap Fire is not a bad game. Its charming presentation and central hook is fun, and it's always nice to see a local multiplayer game in this generation. But its control issues and lack of multiplayer options inhibit Swap Fire's lasting appeal. With more polish and tuning, Swap Fire could have been great. There's potential here; it's just not all realized.