Words of praise will never perish nor a noble name.
Way back when I started reviewing games on GR, I talked about a little game called Interpol: The Trail of Dr. Chaos. It was a game that could almost be considered an adventure game, if not for the fact that it stripped out mostly everything that makes an adventure game enjoyable and left behind all the bad. Well, in stark comparison, Sword and Soldiers also strips away some of the elements that classify a strategy game, but leaves the core, fun elements, resulting in a great strategy game that is both simple to pick up, yet somehow deep enough to demand dedication to master.
[image1]When we talk about real-time strategy games (RTS) or even turn-based strategy (TBS) games, the first thought that comes to mind are maps filled with sidebars chock full of buttons, various angles of action, and an absurd number of units to maintain, not to mention numerous factions to choose from, each with their own Excel sheet of weaknesses and strengths. Swords and Soldiers (S&S) does away with all of these complications and reveals a solid strategy game that is also simple to understand.
Combat occurs on a side-scrolling map with a base on each side. Units move on their own, and the only direct control you have on them is maintaining their health points with healing spells or protecting them by casting magic attacks against enemy units. This system makes it feel a bit like a tower defense game, only that the towers can actually move this time, and you are not just tasked with defending your ground with said towers.
Each of the game's three factions - Vikings, Aztecs, and Chinese - have their own perks and soldier types besides the basic gold gatherer unit, who automatically searches for the "aureum" material as soon as they're out the door. Vikings have Berserkers who can rush enemies and cast thunder and snowstorm spells that attack and slow enemies down. Aztecs have Golems who pack a punch and have the brawn to back it up, also employing the oh-so-annoying poison magic that drains health, while the Chinese use Zen Masters to simply demolish units with a single blow of badass-ness and deploy monkeys - yes, Ronimo likes monkeys - that can rush ahead on the battlefield, skipping enemies altogether, and attack their base. Not straying far from its tower defense influence, the factions also employ their own style of tower which acts as an immobile structure on the map and provides a bit of cover; especially useful in the more tense missions that require defense against constantly oncoming enemy forces.
As you create units and send them to their death, you'll notice that all is not as simple as paper-rock-scissors, due to the pace of the game and the objectives presented in each of the Campaign mode's thirty missions - ten for each of the three factions. Some missions are simpler wipe-'em-out scenarios that do not require as much attention other than unit creation and the occasional defensive or offensive spell, while other missions borrow a lot from older strategy games like StarCraft, presenting the infamous "survive-for-this-long-with-x-amount-of-gold" and "rebuild a base after an attack while regaining an economy for a strike back to the enemy" scenarios.
[image2]The variety of missions is solid, and the way the story is presented helps a lot in setting up why you are trying to defeat an enemy in the first place. For instance, in the first campaign as the Vikings, you are hanging out with your fellow bearded pals during a barbecue when an envious rival steals all of the food and gold, provoking you to embark on a wild goose chase that spans the entire world, thereby introducing you to the other factions in their own regions. It's a quirky setup for a game, and though far from realistic, it's good simple fun.
Sword and Soldiers holds a lot of its charm in its awesome cartoony presentation. Every faction has a unique feel, with Vikings being big, bulgy, bearded guys, Aztecs acting all mysterious and mystic, and the Chinese being slender, confident, and colorful. In fact, the game's very colorful overall, giving off a cartoony vibe all around, like when the Berserker unit enrages and nothing but a cloud of smoke can be seen, or how units respond after they're created - most notably, the Viking gold gatherer is... let's say... an advantageous woman who loves gold and doesn't hide that fact.
Along with the Campaign mode that takes around eight hours to beat, there's also a Skirmish option, where two players with connected Wii-motes can battle each other over split-screen or a lone player can practice it up against a computer-controlled opponent. Multiplayer is a wonderfully hectic battle, and even playing against the artificial intelligence proves to be a fun option, as it can be tuned to any skill level, serving as another play option for those who master the Campaign.
There are also various types of challenges in an aptly named Challenge mode, where unique scenarios are centered around each of the factions. For example, there's a survival mode, that is unlocked by playing the Chinese campaign, which sets a certain amount of gold and time to survive an onslaught of enemies. Another is the Viking challenge, which pits a lone soldier against a gauntlet, with only spells to help him by. Thankfully, you can use spells from all three factions, but it doesn't make things much easier.
[image3]Adding to the already robust overall replay value of Swords and Soldiers is a list of achievements, each of which can be attained during Campaign mode, awarding players for difficult tasks, such as over-turning a losing battle with a single magic spell or surviving a level without the aid of special units. It makes for yet another reason to keep playing.
Swords and Soldiers shows how well a genre game can fit into a simpler formula, without losing any of the enjoyment. Ronimo Games took the complex world of strategy games, combined it with elements from tower defense, and packaged it into something that can be picked up and played by nearly anyone, yet has lots of depth to boot. One of Wiiware's strongest pick-up-and-play titles, with a lengthy story mode, added game types, and even achievements, this ten-dollar download is hard to beat.