When Wii was first revealed, many folks initially imagined two genres that would sit perfectly within the annals of the system’s library: first-person shooters and real-time strategy games. With titles such as Metroid Prime: Corruption, Medal of Honor: Heroes 2, and the soon-to-be-released The Conduit, we’ve definitely got our fair share of first-person action. However, the RTS pickings are still quite slim, so we were very excited to finally get our hands on Ronimo’s latest WiiWare creation, Swords & Soldiers.
Swords & Soldiers is a toonie, very tongue-in-cheek adventure that offers lots of entertainment through its humor, deep gameplay, and robust presentation. It’s a bit Warcraft, a bit Tower Defense, and a whole lot of fun.
Upon loading up this $10 download, you’ll select from one of six save slots to begin your journey. There’s both a single-player option and multiplayer, and when playing solo, you’ve got Campaign, Skirmishes, and Challenges. The Campaign, of course, is where the meat of the package can be found, and you’ll eventually play as three different races, beginning with the Vikings.
The first campaign starts out by teaching you the basics, and the game utilizes a simple interface that’s comprised of clicking on icons, located at the top of the screen, in order to research, spawn units, and cast spells. It’s a very straightforward experience that uses just the Wii Remote in a way that’s accessible without compromising gameplay depth.
Like Warcraft, most skirmishes will require you to spawn gatherer units that will automatically keep the gold flowing into your base. You’ll then need to research the ability to spawn units such as the berserker (melee) or axe thrower, as well as research spells for healing your army or raining down destruction upon your foes. There’s a research tree in place, so you can only research certain spells and units after you’ve first paid to research the ones that come before it. It’s a great system that requires little time to master, yet you’ll be forced to try various strategies in order to successfully complete each skirmish.
Though many aspects of the game exhibit fundamentals akin to your average PC RTS, Swords & Soldiers takes a more simple approach in terms of execution. The game is played on a 2D plane, and once you summon a unit, it marches off under its own power to meet the enemy. Your main control lies in what you research and in what order, when and what units to summon, and casting spells when they’re most effective. It’s a system that works and works well. The only real drawback is that with 2D sprites it can become a bit difficult to accurately target units to cast spells upon. That said, most spells have an area of effect, so there is some compensation for this issue.
Since the game is played from a side-scrolling perspective, you’ll simply need to move the camera from side to side in order to view the battlefield. This can be done in a number of ways, each of which will prove useful depending on what’s going on at a particular moment during a skirmish. You can point toward the edge of the screen and the camera will scroll, or you can use the D-pad on the Wii Remote to scroll the camera a bit faster. Of course, considering the battlefield is usually one, long stretch of land, you’ll often want a quick view of a specific area of the map. There’s a mini-map on the bottom of the screen, which shows units – both enemy and ally – and you can simply point at a certain area of the map and press B to quickly jump to that view of the screen.
One of the things that make Swords & Soldiers such a refreshing RTS experience is the diversity of its skirmishes and races. Within each campaign there’s a great variety of gameplay types, from simple tug-of-war-style skirmishes, to missions that require you to defend your castle until back-up arrives. Additionally, each of the three races – Viking, Aztec, and Chinese – present you with a new set of units types, spells, and other gameplay elements that make for a unique romp every time you take up the mantle of one of these uber-silly civilizations.
A particular criticism we must levy against the game, however, is that often skirmishes can become a long and somewhat-drawn-out tug of war between you and the enemy. The game ramps up steadily in difficulty, and by the midway point of just the first campaign, you’ll come across a skirmish or two that will take forever just to win a small foothold on the battlefield. The level of challenge might also prove a bit much later on for some players, as the first skirmish, alone, of the Chinese campaign is daunting in the extreme and took us several stabs before we successfully completed the mission. If you’re someone who revels in hard-fought victory, though, you’ll surely enjoy what Swords & Soldiers has to offer.
In addition to the three campaigns, you can choose to play individual skirmishes against the A.I. Skirmishes are a nice slice of RTS gameplay that come in various flavors of difficulty. You can play as and against any of the three races and set various options, including the amount of gold each race starts out with, how many servants you’ll begin the skirmish with, as well as select from various terrain types. The multiplayer works exactly the same way but affords you the ability to challenge a friend in stacked, split-screen; it looks and works really well.
Speaking of which, Swords & Soldiers is a great game to look at, and the cheeky humor, art style, and easy-to-use features lend tons to the overall entertainment value of this package. Some folks might take issue with a few of the stereotypes the game riffs on, but it all seems to be in good fun. The dialogue is perfectly doled out, very funny, and it’s wrapped in a story that revolves around the conquest of the ultimate barbeque sauce. Each skirmish feels more like an interactive, animated sitcom than merely a set of battles to zip through.
The graphics are all 2D, with some of the most polished and pretty animation on the WiiWare platform. It’s a great style that works both with the gameplay and overtly comical nature of the story. Everything animates smoothly with zero slowdown. Even the way in which each skirmish is introduced – a touch lovingly stolen from the original Batman TV series – is a real treat.
The aural compliments are equally satisfying, though the speaker in the Wii Remote isn’t utilized at all. It’s not really missed, though, and the music, sound effects, and various voice blurbs make a fun addition to this quirky adventure. All told, the game is jam-packed with personality.
It’s surprising how few real-time strategy games are currently available on Wii considering the control possibilities of both the Wii Remote and Nunchuk, but perhaps developers will take note of Ronimo’s success on WiiWare. Swords & Soldiers definitely hits the mark, in spite of a few missions that overstay their welcome. There’s no online component, which is truly sad, since the gameplay is pitch perfect for quick, online “pwnage.” That said, you’re still getting a whole lot of game for your 1000 Wii Points, and regardless of the lack of competition on Wii, Swords & Soldiers is a great little game that easily stacks up against any other RTS on any system. It’s a definite buy for strategy-loving Wii owners.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.5 Graphics
It’s a great look and style for the WiiWare platform, and everything animates smoothly. There are even day and night cycles to mix things up a bit. A little more variety with the battlefields would have been nice, but it’s our only criticism, really. 4.0 Control
It’s pretty much a pointer-based game, but it works really well. Ronimo came up with a great system that’s approachable without comprising gameplay depth. Selecting units to heal and whatnot can get tricky, though. 4.3 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Clever sound effects, extremely fitting themes, and entertaining, if not a tad inappropriate, voice additions. 4.4
At $10, Swords & Soldiers comes in at the higher-price range of the WiiWare spectrum. The lack of online multiplayer is also missed. However, when you dig into what is actually contained within the package, you’re getting one of the meatiest offerings on the platform.
4.3 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.