SNES Reviews
SNES Sanctuary
Obscure SFC Hub
Planet SEGA Saturn
Magazine MADNESS
Retro Fire

Publisher: Eidos InteractiveReleased: 1997
Developer: Core DesignWritten: 6.4.05

Four years

Four f*cking years!

That's how long it took me to get hold of the elusive PAL-only SEGA Saturn version of Swagman. Ever since I found out about it in 2001 I knew the game was right up my alley. I wasn't able to land a copy until 2005

The following was written two-plus years ago. Enjoy... and Happy Halloween...

*cue movie trailer voice guy*

You have heard of him

You have feared him

You know his name

He is the manifestation of all horror put into one

It doesn't matter who you are or where you grew up

He is a universal DEMON

Hollywood has tried to capture him

From a recent 2005 horror movie to one of the most notorious screen slashers -- MICHAEL MYERS from the Halloween franchise, he's been displayed and he's slayed

That's right baby

He's the one older brothers use to scare their little brothers

He's the reason you became uneasy whenever your back was facing an open dark closet

He's why the hair on the back of your neck stood up as a child when your mommy and daddy said good night and turned off the lights

He lurks in the shadows...



And tonight... you will know him better than ever

TONIGHT, you will come face to face with an old nemesis

TONIGHT, he will invade your SEGA Saturn

*end movie trailer voice guy*

Well OK... not THAT Boogeyman... but his cousin, for sure

This game was on my want list since 2001. 4 years

Was it worth the long wait? Or is it a horrible bust?

The package was received on a warm May day. I thought to myself again. 4 bloody years -- VINDICATED! I ripped the package open

Popped it in

The intro began to play

Little grainy

But the intro set the tone just right. I was on the edge of my seat. The dreaminess and the spookiness of it all... this is right up my alley

Figured out what game I'm talking about yet?

Here's a hint:

It's NOT a Japanese import!


It's a PAL (European game) exclusive

Still stumped?

Mix the the following:

And what do you get?

That's right!

You get


[But of course you already knew that... -Ed.]

Swagman came out on US PS1. The PS1 version on eBay is very common and can be had for 5-10 bucks easily. The Saturn PAL version is hard to find and a lot more expensive. You could just get the PS1 version.... but why?  *wink*

Swagman is a top down action/adventure game with classic elements borrowed from other games. I guess "NiGHTS in platform form" is not too bad a description. You first start out upstairs at your house, making your way through fending off Swagman's henchmen, before going to places beyond just your house. You locate keys, collect various items, solve simple puzzles and classic trademarks like timed jumps, etc.

Starting out in Zack's upstair bedroom, you nab a flashlight which can be used as a weapon. Leaving the room you find a huge gaping hole in the ground. Many appear throughout. Fire and fireslugs spew out of these hellholes

You go through the house exploring, killing, and piecing the clues to the puzzle to unlock new areas to explore and what have you

There are mirrors that allow you to enter Swagman's evil worlds, and here you take on the form of a beast where the game becomes much more action-oriented... ace!

Here's a basic study guide:

  • Paradise Falls: The town that has been cursed on one fateful night. Population: 220

    Good guy. 8 years old. You control him

    Good girl. Zack's twin. You control her too (once rescued)

    Evil demon. Leader of the Night Terrors

    Night Terrors:
    Swagman's henchmen

    The bad stuff Swagman spreads around to keep nightmares alive

    A good group of angels. You must save them to restore peace to Paradise Falls

    Like Dream-Ash, except used by the Dreamflight for good purposes i.e. keeps nightmares away

    What Zack and Hannah turn into once entering the Terrortries

    Swagman's dark evil worlds

    Scarab Leader:
    The leader of Zack's bug collection. Will pop up here and there to lend advice and save games

The rest... well.... I'll let SEGA SATURN MAGAZINE take it away...

Been having bad dreams lately? Sleepless nights spent tossing and turning, your mind drifting off into a nightmare world of strange creatures and shadowed places? If the answer's "yes," you've probably just entered the creepy twilight world of the Swagman. Matt Yeo catches 40 winks...

Are ya sitting comfortably children? You are? Very well, then I'll begin... "Late one night when the small town of Paradise Falls had fallen asleep, Zack and his twin sister Hannah decided to read a poem about the Swagman and his gruesome gang of Night Terrors. It tells the tale of how these sinister characters emerge from their twisted, bad-dream landscape -- the Terrortries -- to spread nightmare-inducing Dreamash on sleeping folk

As Zack and Hannah read this, a rush of wind and a noise from the window freezes them in alarm. But a soft light illuminates the room around them and as they turn, they see a Dreamfly sprinkling Dreamdew into their room. The kids rush to the window, watching as she flies back off across town. But hunched in the darkness on the bough of a tree is the Swagman. Reaching his crooked hand up toward the Dreamfly, he captures her in a swarm of Dreamash. She is fated to be imprisoned in one of his bell-jars -- just like the other members of the Dreamflight

With them captured in this way, the Swagman can safely send his Terrors through the portals between his and our world to extend the boundaries of the Terrortries. Without the Dreamflight
to neutralize the bad dreams coiling through sleepers' minds, they will never waken from his nightmare. As Zack and Hannah witness this from their bedroom window, a loud splintering sound from the landing and the kids cower in fear!


Whoa, spooky stuff, eh? Well at least that's what Core are hoping. You see, the Derby based company have been patiently waiting for Swagman to emerge from the development time warp it's been stuck in for the last few years and finally make it to the Saturn sometime before the end of the decade. Of course the two year wait is nothing compared to Virgin's oft delayed Heart of Darkness but when a title constantly overshoots its deadlines it's often a miracle if the game ever makes it to store shelves at all. Fortunately, the good news is that Swagman has been completed at last. What's more, Saturn owners are in for a rare treat as
this creepy mix of Tim Burton cast-offs, Halloween has-beens and classic puzzle games is something of a fresh breath of air in an industry where who's-got-the-highest-polygon-count are the order of the day

Taking its inspiration from a number of obvious sources, Swagman represents something of a departure for Core whose recent products, such as Tomb Raider, have pushed the boundaries of 3D gaming even further. Settling for a unique 2D overhead playing angle, the game follows the adventures of twins, Zack and Hannah, as they enter the enchanted and deadly nightmare world of the Swagman. If there's something about these screenshots that seems strangely familiar, you'd be right. The Swagman team are more than happy to cite their influences and are keen to point out that the films of Tim Burton have been the main inspiration behind the style and mood of the game's characters and settings. However, while the visual allure may be blatantly "borrowed" from the likes of The Nightmare Before Christmas and Beetlejuice, the gameplay takes it cues from the legendary Zelda series and a cult 16-bit title some of you may recall, Konami's Zombies Ate My Neighbors


As the game begins, players discover that Hannah has been shrunk by one of the Swagman's devious Skallywags (a bizarre green-skulled monstrosity) and imprisoned within the twins' toy bird cage. As if that wasn't worrying enough, the Swagman has also cast a powerful spell over Paradise Falls permanently trapping the inhabitants (all 220 of them) within a deep, never-ending sleep. Zack knows that he and Hannah are the only people awake in the entire town and the only ones who can fight the Swagman and his invading army of Night Terrors. It's now up to him to free Hannah, discover the whereabouts of the Good Great Dreamfly and the eleven members of her Dreamflight, and to rescue them from the clutches of the Swagman and his terrifying Night Terrors so that we can all sleep peacefully once again

Players are initially only able to control Zack as he searches valiantly for a way to free his trapped sister. Fortunately he won't have to face this frightening task all on his lonesome as he enlists the aid of some creepy crawler friends

In the world of dreams, Zack's proud bug collection becomes one of his greatest tools and in fact the leader of the insects is even transformed into a mystical guide who pops up from time to time in order to impart wisdom and handy hints upon weary adventurers. During your journey through each of the game's 16 massive levels (there are also an additional 56 sub-stages to discover), players are required to collect as many bugs as possible. In later levels the bugs reveal their true usefulness by mapping out safe routes through certain danger filled stages. The twins also employ a number of special devices to protect them from the Night Terrors. This includes a powerful torch, a homing frisbee, a nifty yo-yo and mini bombs


Once Hannah has been rescued, the game takes on a completely new life as players are able to combine the twins' abilities and are often required to make them act co-operatively to complete certain tasks. For instance, if a ledge is out of reach, Zach and Hannah may stand on each other thereby gaining a much needed height boost. Once players have mastered the individual and combined abilities of both characters, their world is turned upside down once again as they access the Dreamworld proper

While the initial levels are set in a slightly warped version of our own world, the twins now enter a new dimension: the Swagman's Terrortries. These truly bizarre levels not only feature environments that exist purely in the realm of dreams but they also see the twins undertaking a radical transformation. By entering strategically placed mirrors in the Real World, Zack and Hannah are physically altered and take on the form of Dreambeasts, monstrous creatures with inhuman strength and fiery breath. During these stages, players find themselves fending off attacks by even more bizarre creatures but Zack's Power Punch and Fiery Breath and Hannah's Claw Ripper and Eye Laserbeams are usually powerful enough to fend off any assault. As the game's many levels are travelled and discovered, Zack and Hannah find themselves spending more and more time in both the Terrortries and in their new bodies


SSM: How long has Swagman been in development?

Chris Long: It seems forever now, but about 2 years

SSM: Why so long?

CL: Swagman is an arcade adventure with RPG undertones. All of the backgrounds and enemies are fully 3D rendered images. The game itself is enormous -- level one alone has over 20 different graphic sets so it's taken quite a while to get everything finished!

SSM: Why did you decide to produce this type of game?

CL: One of the original reasons was the fact that most games tend to be polygon-based these days -- we wanted to get away from that. Even though Swagman uses polygons for certain objects, most of the game is set in a pre-rendered two-dimensional world. We felt that there was enough room in the market place for a different type of game

SSM: What did you set out to achieve with Swagman?  How does it differ from other games of the genre?

CL: We wanted to create a virtual cartoon world for the players to explore -- in doing so I think we've managed to create a virtually unique graphical style. I don't think there's really anything similar around at the moment. Also, the main characters, Zack and Hannah, interact in a fairly unique way -- they help each other through the adventure. The game world is split into two halves: the Real World and the Swagman's Terrortries. When Zack and Hannah enter the Terrortries they transform into two new Dreambeast characters and the gameplay becomes
more action-charged

SSM: What factors influenced Swagman's development?

CL: The strongest influence is Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas. The style and mood seemed to fit perfectly to the initial concept for the game. We also looked at Zelda and Zombies Ate My Neighbors on the SNES -- elements from both of these games have been blended into Swagman in an attempt to create one mega adventure!

SSM: How many spooky foes can players expect to encounter in Swagman?

CL: There are around 50 enemies in the adventure but some areas are secret and could contain some nasty surprises....

SSM: How do the twins interact with each other?

CL: The two characters can co-operate with each other in a number of ways. One can jump on top of the other thus allowing access to otherwise unreachable places, or pressure pads must have the combined weight of both characters on them to stay active. Also Zack and Hannah have different weapons/abilities so it requires a combination of efforts from each character in order to progress

SSM: Have you used any special graphical effects to achieve Swagman's unique look?

CL: One of the main goals was to incorporate as many new FX as possible. This include mirrors, true light-sourcing, shadow casting from fixed or moving lights, swirling abyss holes, polygonal warps and many more

SSM: Finally, although a technically proficient machine some 2D Saturn games still run at quite a slow frame rate. How does Swagman compare?

CL: Swagman runs at 60 frames per second which many other games simply can't achieve using multi-linked objects, particle FX, polygon objects, transparencies, etc. The result is a smooth, solid enviroment that we hope will scare the wits out of players!


SSM awarded Swagman with a very respectable 88%. Here are some bits pulled out from their review:

  • "The real challenge soon becomes apparent as players are required to figure out how best to utilize the twins' abilities in certain situations while being attacked from all sides by creatures of all shapes and sizes. That's not to say Swagman becomes a frustrating game. In fact there's nothing more rewarding than finally solving a tricky puzzle room and being rewarded with a level warp, secret stage or power-up. It soon becomes apparent Swagman's lengthy development period has been spent wisely, resulting in a clever, engaging and enjoyable title that harkens back to the glory days of 16-bit gaming

    Give it time, patiently tackle each level and puzzle logically and you'll soon discover that Swagman is a clever, ingenious little title that's guaranteed to give you many sleepless nights

    Another triumph for Core and another top quality title for Saturn. A creepy blend of puzzles, platforms and phantoms"


Not an essential game, but solid and worth adding to the ole library if you have the means. If you enjoyed Zelda, Legend of Oasis, Zombies Ate My Neighbors, Herc's Adventures, and you loved the whole NiGHTS storyline, then look this up

It really does harken back to the glory days of 16-bit gaming. And the music, composed by the talented duo of Nathan McCree and Martin Iveson, rocks

Swagman might not be the best game ever, but it's sure to leave you with a certain satisfying feeling, and that's more than what many games could say. If you can find a copy, have some
odd 45 (or more) bucks to burn, ghoul for it. HA!  Sorry

[You're fired -Ed.]