Web Analytics Made Easy - Statcounter

Wholesome competition and Queer vibes unite in local indie game Spirit Swap

Share this Post:
Image courtesy of Soft Not Weak
Image courtesy of Soft Not Weak

After one of their favorite match-three games, Sailor Moon Drops, was shut down in 2019, Alex Abou Karam and two roommates set out to fill the gap with a game of their own. The first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic would also be the beginnings of the Washington-based indie studio Soft Not Weak and its upcoming action-puzzle game, Spirit Swap: Lofi Beats to Match-3 To.

The basic formula of the match-three genre is simple: a player is shown a board of various tiles, and the goal is to manipulate them in such a way that three or more of the same are contiguous. Those contiguous tiles are then removed, awarding the player points, and the remaining tiles adjust accordingly.

There are countless iterations of match-three, the most prominent being PopCap's Bejeweled and King's Candy Crush. Games like this are popular because they're easy to understand, fairly simple to code, and generally require a small time investment from players. But Karam wanted something those titles couldn't offer.

"There's a look to them," Karam said of most match-three games. "Not to hate on it, but it's just not for me."

A quick scroll through mobile game marketplaces is enough to see that many of the titles there, in any genre, have art styles that are far from adventurous, perhaps out of an appeal to the lowest common denominator.

By contrast, Spirit Swap has a bold, neon-pop palette and a very "girly" aesthetic, with a chill, lo-fi soundtrack to match. That's part of what drew many Queer con-goers to the game's booth at PAX West this year.

Image courtesy of Soft Not Weak  

Narrative element and diverse characters
The game also has an actual narrative, in the style of a visual novel, with a cast of unabashedly Queer characters. Designing them was a collaborative effort.

"The best way to diversify the cast was just to ask people what they wanted to see," Abou Karam said. "And because we had a team that was very varied and kind of all over the place, we got very different characters. If you're a Queer person, usually you look around and you have like 15 different flavors of Queerness there." The cast reflects that to a great degree.

A story might seem like a hefty imposition on a genre that's normally quite casual, but Karam insisted that it's all very low-stakes. It's about "just hanging with your friends, and if you wanna get really messy, you could try dating them," he said.

"It's this fantasy of, What if you and your friends understood each other completely — that even if you got into it, you were able to fix it?"

Image courtesy of Soft Not Weak  

Friendly competition
At first, those wholesome vibes might seem at odds with the game's competitive nature. While Bejeweled and Candy Crush are traditionally a solo affair, Spirit Swap is designed to be played against an opponent — either real or digital — and throughout the game's storyline, that's what players do.

By matching tiles ("spirits") on their own board, a player disrupts their opponent's board, and also charges up a character-specific "spell." All the while, more tiles rise from the bottom of the board. When one player's tiles top out, the other player is awarded a heart and both boards reset. The first to three hearts wins.

These "versus" scenarios aren't framed as battles for dominance so much as friendly competitions, borrowing from the idea of "body doubling" as both characters involved work to help spirits pass on to the next world.

Spirit Swap is set to release next year, but it already has fans. It had a "gangbuster" Kickstarter campaign and a warm reception on the show floor at PAX West, with some attendees coming back for more and bringing their friends with them.

"We've been working on this for so long in our own little bubble, and obviously the internet and whatever people are really sweet, but to see people play our game and enjoy it in person — I was shattered in the best way," Abou Karam said of the event.

A demo of the game, with a robust tutorial for beginners and a short, sweet taste of the storyline, is available on Steam now. The best way for interested readers to support this title for free before release is to add it to their wishlist.

To keep up with development and learn more about Spirit Swap: LoFi Beats to Match-3 To, visit https://spiritswapgame.com