It’s not often you see games with a 1920s theme, let alone a fantasy game set in that era. That alone makes Pendula Swing quite the curiosity. But it goes even further than that. In fact, I’ve never really played a game quite like it.
Many thanks to RedDeerGames for the review code.
FLAPPER OR SLAPPER?
The game opens up with a silent movie depicting a heroic band of warriors slaying the evil Nakirik; one of which is our plucky Dwarven protagonist, Brialynne. A long time has passed since her adventuring days, and now she spends her retired widowed life tending to her garden on a tiny island away from the mainland. It’s a simple life, but away from society she can mourn the death of her deceased wife in peace. Things change, however, when one morning she discovers that her legendary axe has been stolen – and all signs point to a sneaky goblin culprit. In order to recover her stolen weapon, she must sail to the mainland of Duberdon in order to track down both the thief and her property.
From there, things don’t play out quite as expected. Things have changed over the course of 350 years and, instead of a world of warring factions, we have a world where humans are in charge and all of the other races have to find a way to get along. Stereotypes are abundant and there’s an element of friction between the races. Orcs are seen as brutes and liars, whereas Goblins are seen as the lowest of the low. Other races may fair a little better, but almost everyone in Duberdon is just trying to get by and support their families, regardless of race. What starts as a simple quest to find your axe turns into your discovery of the new world and how you see yourself and everyone else in it. There’s a lot of modern world issues reflected in this fictional setting, and it’s handled in a very insightful way. The axe storyline really becomes secondary to your discovery of the world, but even that primary storyline has some interesting story beats that question your nature as a hero.
IN FULL SWING
With its isometric viewpoint, the game’s visuals are reminiscent of the classic Crusader or Fallout games, but unlike those, there’s no action here. She may be a warrior looking for her axe, but there’s barely even an argument in the game, let alone combat. Furthermore, despite appearing to be a point-and-click style adventure game at first, the game has very little puzzling in it at all. As you explore the world of Duberdon, you’ll find yourself predominantly in conversations with people; people who you can often help out by doing a thing for them. This usually revolves around find some item or other for them, or speaking to someone on their behalf. It can seem a little fetch-questy at times, but the narrative is strong enough to give you the desire to fill their request. Considering you tend to have enough money for whatever you need most of the time, there’s rarely any reward for completing any of these side activities – aside from the satisfaction of making someone’s life that little bit better. And honestly? I found that was enough. Helping a sad goblin get a protest permit so he can continue to fight for his right to vote was reward enough for simply heading to the police station and chatting with the cute elven copper that I happened to be dating.
There’s lots of mini quests available throughout Duberdon, and you have a handy little journal that will keep a track of all of them. Typically it will give you a brief description of the task and the district you need to go to in order to do it. Considering there are a multitude of districts all separated by a loading screen, this helps a lot – even if you often have to fight with the map screen just to try and select where you want to travel to. You’ll be extra thankful for this too when you see just how many quests will fill up your little book, with it often reaching multiple pages; thankfully, anything relating to the main quest will be marked with an asterix so you’ll never be stuck knowing how to proceed.
Considering how engaging the world in Pendula Swing is, it’s such a shame that it’s hard to recommend in its current state. For what the game is trying to be, it works really well. Even technically, everything in mostly fine, with short loading times and very minor bugs that don’t impede gameplay. The one issue that does plague the entire experience is the controls. They’re not just bad, but can make the game borderline unplayable at times. Interacting with people and objects is done by getting close and waiting for the appropriate prompt; however, it fails to work properly most of the time. The game seems to require a ‘sweet spot’ for interacting with anything, and any other position – even closer to the object – will result in failure. It often means that you find yourself wandering in circles trying to interact with a person or thing; there are companions you can get to come along with you, but this just makes things worse as you run the risk of speaking to them instead of interacting with what you actually want. Given that interacting with things is the bulk of the experience, you can imagine how frustrating this becomes. On the flip side, it’s also something that is patchable, so I really hope the developers do so. This issue really sours the overall experience, so the effort it would take to fix it would certainly be worthwhile.
Pendula Swing crafts a sublime fantasy world that deals with important social issues in a great way. Dialogue is generally great, despite the odd typo, and the isometric visuals are extremely charming. It’s a shame then that the godawful controls make the game quite difficult to play. If you can deal with that, there’s a cute narrative adventure to be had – otherwise it may be best to wait for a patch.