What does a Viking Chief, an Aztec Emperor and the Imperial Chinese have in common? All three of them were part of a great nation and they’re also the main players in a very creative and different strategy game called Swords and Soldiers.
I’ve always enjoyed playing real-time strategy games, but unlike so many of them, Swords and Soldiers takes on a slightly different approach. Instead of creating defensive buildings and controlling your ground troops, you’re expected to use a combination of magic, stationary towers and deploy ground troops that act on their own. A lot of control has been stripped away from you, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
In most strategy games, you are given a fair amount of control over your enemies and where you can build things, and so on and so forth. But in this game, there are very few places for you to build your towers, and you can’t control your troop’s movement. Because this is a 2D game, the entire level is set from left to right. You are always on the left, and your enemy is always on the right. As soon as you deploy an attacker, they will automatically move on their own until they reach the enemy base, or die trying. While this would normally frustrate me, I quickly learned the importance of timing and patience. Once you nail that process, and figure out your enemy’s pattern, the game becomes a lot easier.
Although it is relatively easy, especially the first half of the game, many of the missions strip you of certain units and magics. This forces you to rethink your tactics and allows you to experiment with different units. There aren’t many units at your disposal, so when you lose the one you’re normally dependent on, the game forces you to familiarise yourself with the others. This is a very clever way of getting you to know all your units. But that’s not all, the type of unit you get completely depends on which race you’re playing, each one comes with its own strengths and weaknesses.
The main game is divided into three parts, one for each nation: Vikings, Aztec and Chinese. All three of them have completely different units, for example, the Vikings have catapults and axe throwers, the Chinese have ninja monkeys and rocketeers, while the Aztecs have poison dart shooters and necromancers. Other than the gold miners, no two units are the same, so playing a new race is an entirely new experience.
While the game is both simple and complex, I was completely surprised by the ease of the controls. The game can be played in one of two ways i.e., with the Wii U Gamepad or with the Wii remote. The game works brilliantly with the Gamepad’s touchscreen, but it’s a total hit-and-miss affair with the Wii remote. You need to be quick and efficient in battle, but your response time with the remote will be too slow, not mention all the scrolling around. At the end of the day, it’s much better to play on the Gamepad, plus you won’t need to use your TV.
While the game itself is an enjoyable and whimsical experience, the script is a bit too silly. The game doesn’t take itself too seriously, but I was expecting something a little deeper than what was given. You start the game off by playing the Vikings, who you’d expect to be tough and rough and full of chest hair, but what you’re given is a fat Viking Chief sitting on the top of a Viking ship, contemplating what he’s going to eat for supper. Eventually his barbecue plans get interrupted by another Viking, which eventually starts a global war between various nations. The other two are no different; in the Aztec campaign you’re on the hunt for a giant holy chilli pepper; and in the Chinese campaign, you play a child emperor who sends out his loyal subjects to their death… for new toys.
The game is very colourful despite the amount of death involved. Even the skeletons you raise (during your Aztec campaign) are very child-friendly and probably won’t spook timid children. The artwork is well crafted and compliments the overall vibe of the game. The soundtrack and sound effects are brilliant and also bring out the whimsical nature of the game, but it does sometimes feel like you’re hearing the same tracks over and over so it can become a bit annoying.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by this indie title. Each campaign feels fresh and different, and the levels never get stale or repetitive. The simplicity of the game will win over many children and casual gamers. I do wish the main game was a lot more challenging, but you do have the option to play tougher levels in the skirmish section. There are also a few bonus games for you to try out, as well as some achievements, so there is a fair amount of replay value to it. This is definitely a game you should try out if you’re looking for a new and quick strategy game for the Wii U.