Swords & Soldiers is brilliant simple RTS fun. My Darkzero Review
Nintendo’s Wiiware service is a bit of a mix bag at the moment, it doesn’t always bring great hits, but from time to time the occasional fantastic game pops up that is worth getting attention. The latest title to shout about is Ronimo Games’ Swords & Soldiers. A real time strategy game that is out right now to buy on Wiiware for 1000 Nintendo points.
Real time strategy games don’t always get the best of praises on a console. The genre is usually held back by the limitation of the controller. Swords & Soldiers breaks this mould because the game is actually a side scrolling 2D real time strategy game, which is something you don’t see very often. I can only think of Vanillaware’s Grim Grimoire, which was a real time strategy game for the Playstation 2 that also featured 2D gameplay, but played differently to Swords & Soldiers.
The 2D nature of Swords & Soldiers means that you won’t be getting a real time strategy game that is too complex. It’s simple to get to grips with, so it won’t be competing with the likes of Starcraft or Dawn of War. Even if it isn’t as deep as those games, Swords & Soldiers is still plenty of fun for gamers and a great way to pull in people who wouldn’t normally play RTS games, so in sense; the game isn’t really trying to pull in the hardcore RTS gamer.
That doesn’t mean Swords & Soldiers has lost what makes a RTS good, the roots of all RTS gameplay are still here. This means you have to gather resources, for example the Vikings have huge Viking women with blonde stereotypical pigtails that walk into gold mines placed around the level to gather your cash. The levels look like they would be suited to a platforming game such as Mario, so everything is either to the left or right, rather than having a square field to play around with.
Gold is the only resource management you have to gather. It’s needed for you to build more units or purchase upgrades or magical powers. Unlike traditional RTS games, the units you build in Swords & Soldiers aren’t controllable. Once built a unit will simply come out of your headquarters and walk in the direction of the enemy base, at its own pace. What this means for gameplay, is that Swords & Soldiers loses out certain gameplay mechanics you would expect to find in a 3D RTS game. Things like unit management or the strategic planning of attack on the enemy, or grouping certain units to defend your army. Instead all this is gone, and in place, the player has to take into account the walking pace of the unit that they are building.
It sounds funny, but in fact this is quite a big part of the gameplay. For example if you build a unit that is made for attacking opponents that are far away, like the axe thrower for the Viking team, then you’re screwed if the opposition send in a melee attacker that your unit can’t defend against. So you need some melee guards to protect the axe thrower, but these dudes might walk faster, depending what type of melee class you’ve selected. So you’ll have to build the axe thrower unit first, then let them walk ahead, then create the melee unit, who walks faster, to catch up to axe thrower unit at the right point in the level where you meet up with enemy resistance. It’s a genius way to overcome a problem that could have made Swords & Soldiers less of a strategic game if it hadn’t thrown in the unit speed assets.
Apart from buying and deploying units, the player also has a mana stash that charges up independently. There is no way to gather more mana, only increase the speed it regenerates, through the games research system. Mana is a vital part in helping you win the fight, as in the game’s later stages you will sometimes come across stalemate battles where neither team seems to be pushing their units across the map, because they are stuck in battle with each other and constantly resupplying and dying. To help move your units across you can use mana to cast spells on units. They are defensive and offensive spells at your disposal. Each of the three teams that are feature in the game has unique units and spells. The Aztecs use poison and resurrect dead people while the Vikings use ice and electricity spells. The Chinese on the other hand can summon a dragon or cast a rain of arrows down on the unlucky person who happens to be standing in the way.
All of the three teams feel vastly different in how they play. The Vikings are a bunch of hooligans who like to go all out with strength while the Aztecs feel more like a team of trickery with their poison attacks, necromancers and human traps. There isn’t that many different units per team, but what is available feels just right for the scale of the game. The maps are very small and a mission can take between 3-20 minutes to finish. The main bulk of the game is the campaign mode, where all three of the teams have their own campaign to play through. The Aztecs and Chinese are locked at the start as you have to beat the Vikings’ story to move onto the next team.
It won’t take you long to beat the campaign mode as each team has 10 missions to complete, meaning 30 in total. All of these missions can be beaten in around 5-6 hours, which isn’t that long for an RTS game, but this is a different take on the RTS genre and is only a downloadable title going for far cheaper than a retail product. Once finishing the campaign they are other areas for you to challenge yourself. Three mini games open up as you play through the campaign, which will hold your interest for a while, as you roll giant boulders, keep a Viking alive to make him walk as far as possible before he gets killed and lastly a survival mode which does exactly as the name suggests.
Not to forget the multiplayer as well, as this will no doubt be your most played feature after finishing the game. Swords & Soldiers supports up to two players offline and is done by splitting the screen so both players can see their side of the battlefield. Playing against someone good can result in a frantic fun experience.
Swords & Soldiers has a gleaming graphical style that looks great on the Wii. It’s exceedingly colourful and fused with personality. It looks like an animated comic infused with the flash based games style that you often find on the Internet. The only downside I have with the game is due to the backgrounds, they are a bit static. It would have been nice to have some interactivity or varied motions in the backgrounds rather than just movement of floating clouds. Still the game is oozing with its style and humourous presentation, which is evident by the game’s story involving wacky things like the Viking team finding the perfect BBQ sauce. The whole game has a comical feeling, making it a less serious experience than you’d expect.
Once again the Wiiware platform has given birth to a game that you most likely won’t experience anywhere else. Ronimo Games has created a light hearted take on the RTS genre. Swords & Soldiers has enabled a gateway for people who don’t normally venture into the real time strategy genre, to be able to pick up their Wii remote and play. Sure it has lost some of the challenge that comes with PC RTS games, but that isn’t much of a big deal when the game is crammed with charm and is a blast to play. If you want to play a RTS that’s stress free and doesn’t require much of your time, then Swords & Soldiers is perfect for you. It’s one of the better titles on the service at the moment and at 1000 points, you really don’t have to worry about the recession to buy it. Instead just get out there and find your perfect barbeque sauce, it’s a highly amusing experience.