It’s a weekend afternoon, over at least a decade ago, and I’m in a bookstore. I don’t have anything in particular in mind, but I’m the sort that loves to wander aimlessly in these kinds of spaces, to tilt my head and read titles quietly to myself and touch a few spines, maybe even pull a whole book off the shelf and read the back-cover blurbage. I’m near the café section, where coffee and scones reign supreme, myself eating up a FoxTrot treasury or something like that when a song comes on overhead. It’s soft, safe, reassuring. There’s light guitar strumming and piano–and a man’s voice. I don’t remember any of the words or how the tune ultimately went. I know that I liked it. I have never heard that song again since.
I’ve had this happen a few times in my life. There are tunes or pieces of writing or drawings that live in my brain, fuzzily, right on the fringe of my consciousness, waiting to be rediscovered. I can recall them, but not fully. Clearly, they had an impact on me. Alas, I can only remember limited details about them to the point of frustration. It’s not like now when you have a mini computer in your coat’s pocket and can look up anything you want and create a historical record as a future reminder. I continue to live each day with a quiet hope that all these mysteries will reveal themselves before I buy the farm.
With all that said, there’s been a videogame from my teenager-era past that I know I have been unable to recall–for years. I’ve actively tried looking it up, but unfortunately was unable to figure out its name, even with all that Internet out there. It’s not even a game I regret trading in because I think I only rented it for a few days and didn’t like it very much, but the fact that I can’t confirm what it was confidently is more irritating than anything else.
Right. Okay, try to play along, even if I already spoiled the reveal in this blog’s title. Here’s everything that I knew about the mystery game:
- It was on the original PlayStation
- It had a top-down perspective, like The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
- Its heroes were children
- It began in a bedroom
That’s all, folks. Make your guess, and show your work.
Turns out, after clicking around on Grouvee today, which is where I’m working on organizing my unstoppable collection, that game was called Swagman. Uhh. For the longest time, I was convinced it was Okage: Shadow King, but no, especially when you realize that one is an entire console generation later. Anyways, when I saw the name Swagman, it did not immediately ring a bell, but I thought to check nonetheless and dropped it into a Google image search, only to be greeted with screenshots that instantly took hold of me to confirm that, yes, this odd, lesser-known critter from Eidos Interactive in 1997 is the game I played back in high school for a weekend and then never again.
I can’t believe I didn’t remember the specifics of Swagman. Here’s a plot summary: Using a substance called Dreammash to force everyone sleeping in Paradise Falls to suffer from constant nightmares, the Swagman and his army of Night Terrors are planning a deadly takeover. They have also captured and imprisoned the twelve Dreamflight fairies in order to begin a deadly invasion of the real world. That is, unless Zack and his sister Hannah can figure out a way to rescue them and destroy the Swagman for good. Otherwise, it’s nightmares on top of nightmares on top of more nightmares–for infinity.
In terms of gameplay, Swagman is a puzzle adventure thing with some light action and platforming. I guess “mixed bag” would actually be used correctly here. While in the “real world” sections, the game has Zack and Hannah–who both can be controlled–finding items like bugs and/or keys to solve puzzles or unlock certain doors. When in “dream” areas, called Territories and accessed via magical mirrors, the game becomes more action-focused, with you sometimes transforming into a monstrous beast that can spew flames from its mouth. Yup. There’s an on-screen inventory for some of the items you’ve collected, such as the Fantastic Frisbee, Super Sneakers, and Cherry Bombs. Your best weapon against the Swagman’s loyal minions seems to be a flashlight or general avoidance, and because Zack and Hannah share a collective lifebar, there’s danger in taking on too much by yourself.
I honestly don’t remember ever getting out of the real world section, but maybe I did and only have a strong recollection for the opening area. I don’t know. Looking back at it and watching some playthroughs on YouTube, I’m not overly impressed or interested in getting a copy for myself, even as a collector. Again, this wasn’t a lost treasured gem from my past, but rather something pestering me for years. I’m glad the issue is resolved.
Swagman is the game I could never remember, and now I’ll never forget it. Next up–whatever that bookstore store was hopefully.