Game – Swords & Soldiers
Developer – Two Tribes / Ronimo
Publisher – Two Tribes Publishing
Platform – Wii U (MSRP $2.99)
Rating – E for Everyone
Obtained – Download Code courtesy of Two Tribes
Nintendo fans might remember Swords & Soldiers from its initial release on WiiWare in 2009. Since then, the game has released on a multitude of platforms, with the Steam version in particular (Swords & Soldiers HD) getting an entirely new campaign as DLC. While the Wii U version doesn’t feature any of that new content, it DOES feature a much lower price tag ($2.99) and proves it is still a very strong contender for your time and money, even five years after it first graced download platforms.
Swords & Soldiers is a real-time strategy (RTS) game in which you take control of Viking, Aztec, or Chinese troops, research new technologies, and gather gold in an effort to destroy your opponent’s base. Most RTS games can be quite complex, to the extent where they will scare away many casual players. Swords & Soldiers, however, simplifies the genre to a point where it is approachable for casual play but offers a surprising amount of depth for those who sink more time into it. Don’t let the colourful visual style, simple menus and lighthearted story fool you, Swords & Soldiers can get pretty tough.
Rather than offering complete control of your troops in a top-down environment like a typical RTS, this game takes place on a two-dimensional battlefield in which the units you create will move automatically towards the enemy’s base. Taking away the player’s direct control over their units immediately makes the game approachable for beginner and novice gamers, but it is far more involved than it seems. Each of the three races offers unique types of troops, spells, and towers, making them each play differently. For example, the Vikings have healing spells and axe throwers, Aztecs will launch poisonous darts and raise the dead, while the Chinese have ninjas to sneak by enemies and Buddha towers that refill their magic points. Success bubbles down to how quickly and intelligently you can upgrade your troops, counter your opponent’s moves, and overwhelm the enemy with your own army. Playing through the campaign is the best way to learn about the various ins and outs of each group so that you know which strategies work best in the full-fledged battles found in ‘skirmish’ mode.
The campaign takes place across three different ten-level adventures that re-tell the overarching story arc from different perspectives. The narrative is a little bit difficult and convoluted to explain concisely, but it involves hungry vikings, fields of chili peppers ready to be stewed and lots of brainwashing. Its writing and characters are entertaining enough to drive players to completion (about four or five hours in length), but the story is clearly geared more towards children and unfortunately lacks the Disney/Pixar quality of appealing to adults as well. One of the best examples of this that I can come up with relates to the Chinese campaign where armies are led to battle by a child emperor searching for toys. While the story conceit was worth a small smile the first time, it quickly became tiresome as the story dragged on. That said, its cartoony art style (which looks crisp and detailed in high definition), goofy sound effects (When you spawn miners they might yell out “I LOOOOVE gold”, for example) and grandiose musical score make up for its narrative shortcomings.
Each of the three campaigns do excellent jobs of teaching players how to use each race, and offer up some interesting twists on the gameplay mechanics. ‘Skirmish’ mode will put players against either a CPU or second player-controlled army as they fight to destroy each other’s bases. As the difficulty level increases, players will find that they need to rely more and more of the subtleties of each character race. That is to say, knowing exactly which combinations of soldiers and spells will take care of the specific units your opponent sends out is monumental to your success. Additional minigames are unlocked through the campaign, and will challenge players to beat their high scores, though no means of sharing these scores outside of Miiverse is available. Although Skirmish Mode and the additional minigames are fun, there isn’t much incentive to play through them for long unless you have a friend around to compete against.
Swords and Soldiers provides a fresh take on the real-time strategy genre that any gamer can enjoy. Its lighthearted and humorous themes make it approachable, but if you invest enough time into it and crank up the difficulty, you’ll find it to be a very challenging and fulfilling RTS experience.
Final score: 8/10
+ Approachable yet deep gameplay
+ Unique twist on the RTS genre
+ Good-looking cartoonish art style
+ Goofy sound effects and epic music
+ Low price tag
– No means to share high scores (except through Miiverse)
– Disappointing story