As bad as this may sound, the start menu for Swarm is probably the single coolest part of the entire game. That's not to say that playing Swarm isn't a fun, ultimately rewarding experience, because for anyone who enjoys platforming and chasing high scores it totally is. Still, the most satisfying part of the game is getting your little Swarmites killed in several grisly ways, whether accidentally or intentionally, and no where is this displayed in as much detail as on the title screen. If you’re going into this game expecting a tight, metered Lemmings-style experience, you're going to be disappointed. But If you're looking for a fast-paced, zany platformer with score multipliers and collectibles, Swarm delivers in a unique way that exemplifies why some of the most interesting game design is happening on digital download services like XBLA and PSN.
Swarm begins with a blue alien sac landing on a planet and stretching out its tendrils to take root. It uses these tentacles to spit out a group of Swarmites, tiny blue humanoids with individual intelligence but acting as a herd, to find strands of DNA so that it can evolve and survive. The player controls this swarm of up to 50 as a whole, moving it with the analog stick and telling it to disperse or bunch up with the triggers. It can jump various heights depending on how long the A button is held, as well as form a tower by stacking Swarmites on each others' heads. There are also a few context sensitive situations where you need to manipulate items, but for the most part you are using these simple commands to move the swarm to the end of the level while keeping at least one Swarmite alive. The catch is that most levels have a score requirement in order to unlock the next stage, so not only do you need to make it to the end, but you must also keep your score multiplier as high as possible by collecting points bubbles and getting Swarmites killed. That's right, you get more points for killing the little buggers than keeping them alive, but you'll only want to kill as many as is needed to not lose your multiplier. There are egg sacs located throughout each level that replenish your Swarmites, as well as checkpoints in case you do lose the entire flock. Ideally, you'll make it from the beginning of the level to the end without having to revisit a checkpoint with as few Swarmites and in as little time as possible, with a long trail of blue gore behind you. Even though some levels don't have a time bonus, you'll find that rushing headlong through a stage while only dodging a few traps is probably the best way to score big.
Speaking of traps, there are exactly nine ways your Swarmites can get murdered, and the game keeps track of all of them. Whether they get burned, impaled, electrocuted, crushed, dismembered, asphyxiated, trapped, vaporized or dropped into the abyss, every single death gets tallied up and added to your Death Medals page. You'll probably spend more time caring about these numbers than the actual scores from each level, because there are plenty of medals to be had and they all pop up in that satisfying, achievement-like fashion to let you know how poor of a leader you've been. There are medals for losing your last Swarmite in a certain way, losing your last ten at the same time, and progressive medals that rank up as your total deaths in each category increase. You'll find a few places in the game with hazards existing right next to a checkpoint that make farming these medals quite easy, but it doesn't make them any less fun.
Even though I enjoyed my time with Swarm quite a lot, by the end I had numerous gripes with the game, mostly on the technical level. The game locked up on me at least three times on the mission select screen, forcing me to hard reset the Xbox 360 and adding a layer of frustration to replaying levels. While the controls are tight enough to get the job done, in some cases you'll lose track of where the center of your Swarmite group is or find that they veer off your designated direction, usually when the screen is being filled with chaotic explosions. While you can zoom the camera, for the most part you'll be looking at the swarm from a locked perspective while navigating a 3D environment, making some jumps rather difficult. The later levels can get quite frustrating, especially with their steep score demands, but never to the point where you don't know what went wrong or how you could improve.
With a total of twelve levels, including two bosses, Swarm may not be the longest game in its price range, but you'll be replaying each level at least a few times in order to collect the five DNA strands scattered across each needed to unlock the bosses, as well as to earn those coveted Death Medals. The graphics and sound design are both better than you'd expect from the average downloadable game, but as stated before the best animated deaths are on the title screen. There are online leaderboards showcasing the highest scores on each level, but I had had my fill with the game by the time I'd finished every medal and achievement. There may not be a whole lot to it, but l if a quirky, somewhat demanding puzzle/action/platformer with higher than average production values sounds appealing to you, look no further. There really isn't anything else like Swarm, and that alone should be worth the price of admission.