When it comes to games that tug at my mobile gaming nostalgia strings, Sway from Illusion Labs is right near the top of the list. What’s that you say? You’ve never even heard of Sway? Well that’s not surprising. It arrived when the App Store was still in its infancy, and commercially it wasn’t a success. However, for those who were kicking around the TouchArcade forums in late 2008 and early 2009, Sway was this shining example of the type of experiences developers could create that only seemed possible on an iPhone. The idea in Sway is that you can grab onto a wall with your right hand touching the right side of the screen, and with your left hand by touching the left side of the screen. You can also swing and sway your momentum back and forth, even going into full rotations to build up even more momentum. You use these mechanics to swing and grab your way through a level, collecting bonus items and racing against the clock, until you reach the end goal. Illusion Labs’ own extremely old tutorial video from 2009 does a good job at showing you exactly what the controls are like in Sway.
Now, it’s not like Sway was the first swinging game ever invented, and it wasn’t even the only swinging platformer on mobile at the time as RastaMonkey offered a somewhat similar experience. But the “it” factor in Sway was Illusion Labs themselves. They had already built a reputation for themselves on mobile with their previous releases TouchGrind and Labyrinth, showing that they were dedicated to creating gaming experiences that were visually impressive and used the unique capabilities of iOS devices in interesting ways. TouchGrind used the touchscreen as a way for your fingers to manipulate a virtual skateboard. Labyrinth used the gyroscope to mimic gravity as your tilted and rolled a metal ball through a wooden maze. And then Sway used the multi-touch capability to create this grabbing and swinging mechanic that just felt so fluid and natural. Well, after a whole lot of practice that is.
Sway was an incredibly difficult game if you wanted to do well. If you wanted to just complete all the levels? Not so bad. There’s no penalty for dying, and you can more or less brute force your way to the end of each level without too much hassle. But if you want to collect all the stars within a certain timeframe to earn a Gold Medal on a level, then you’re going to need to really put your skills to the test. That’s really at the heart of what I loved so much about Sway back in the day. It really demanded a lot from you, but there was always a sense of satisfaction as your skills grew the more you played. There’s the tricky left/right coordination going on as you try to latch on with the correct hand at the correct time while simultaneously needing to control your momentum and direction through a level. There’s most certainly a “rhythm” to it all, and when things click and you swing gracefully through a level completing all challenges and landing in the end zone, there’s no better feeling in the world.
Anyway, as you can tell, I’m a big fan of Sway. It actually came out about a year before I even began working for TouchArcade, and for more than a decade now I’ve wanted a chance to write about it. Unfortunately, the game did not do well for Illusion Labs, and beyond its one big content update not long after its release it has sat withering away in the App Store ever since. I remember talking with Illusion Labs at GDC several years back and practically begging for even a basic update with iPhone 5 widescreen support, but at that time one of the original coders of the game was no longer with the company and they just couldn’t justify the amount of time, resources, and money it would have taken to dig into the old Sway codebase to fix things up.
But you know what? There is a place for games that were not long for this world, and that place is called GameClub. The engineering wizards over there have dug into the innards of Sway and updated the game to be both functional and fantastic looking on modern mobile devices. As of today it is now a part of their gaming subscription library, and as is the case with all GameClub releases, if you owned Sway originally you can download the shiny new updated version for free whether you’re a GameClub subscriber or not. Sway is also part of GameClub over on Android if you’re an Android person. This is definitely one of the quirkiest mobile titles around that most certainly did not get its proper due when it originally launched, so its arrival on GameClub means that an entirely new audience can now experience this weird little game that most people haven’t even heard of.
If you were not a previous owner of Sway you can still check out the updated GameClub version of the game in a limited capacity for free, and if you decide you like it then subscribing to the service will give you unlimited access to more than 100 classic games that have been resurrected for modern mobile devices. If this sounds good to you the best place to start is by downloading the GameClub app itself, which you can get for both iOS and Android right here, which acts as a sort of hub with all kinds of great information about all the games in GameClub’s library.