Swords & Soldiers
What would you be willing to wage war over? What is sacred enough that you would send battalions of warriors to meet their end? Your cherished barbecue? Your giant, competition-sized home grown pepper? Nothing too spiritual or philosophical, I hope? I mean sure, national security and the right to freedom is up there on the list, but every axe-wielding Viking knows that a nation is only as good as its barbecue. This wacky and absurd theme is ever-present in Ronimo’s Swords & Soldiers, a new real-time strategy game developed for the Wii. Swords & Soldiers wastes no time in expressing to you just how seriously it takes itself, which is somewhat self explanatory when you encounter the Vikings – a hardy group of warriors traveling the map and engaging in combat with other civilizations in order to gain materials for “the perfect barbecue sauce”. Sword & Soldiers’s greatest strength rests right here, in its ability to take a step back and approach the standard real-time strategy genre with an air of humor and simplicity. Units are colourful and funny, landscapes are bizarre and vibrant, and the control scheme will leave you wishing all console strategy games of the past had taken these steps to simplify, as Swords & Soldiers has.
Swords & Soldiers’ storyline – if you can call it that – is one that fits almost perfectly with the tone of the game. You will progress through the battles of three factions, starting with the Vikings, and moving along to the Aztecs and finally the Chinese. Each faction shares an identical map as you progress, but has its own story to tell, all with equally absurd goals. As you can imagine, the Aztec’s affectionate relationship with their giant chili pepper does not coincide with the Viking’s interests in making the ultimate barbecue sauce… Each faction will have an eventual run-in with the other two as they progress, and playing against units that you used to control adds a feeling of irony and will very quickly have you recognizing who your favorite side is – be it the barbaric and melee oriented Vikings, the shadowy masses of the Aztecs, or the disciplined and mystical Chinese. Each of the three armies to play possess their own types of units, magical abilities and ultimate abilities that fit nicely with their so-called “cultural affiliations” – picture a giant rolling boulder crossing the map and crushing all enemies it comes into contact with; Very “Indiana Jones”. Can you guess which faction?
The Digital World
Games like Swords & Soldiers are a beacon of hope and a sign of what’s to come. Developers taking steps to employ the online distribution of their games. Take Sony’s recently announced PSP Go, completely devoid of any game cartridges whatsoever, or the DSi’s download capabilities. Consoles and games such as these mark the end of physical consumerism – a completely digital library saves trees, and I’m all for it. All hail the Wiiware titles.
The game’s presentation is likely to be the element you remember it for; Swords & Soldiers maintains a highly colourful and eccentric atmosphere (think Castle Crashers) without sacrificing any quality in character models or clarity. Even amongst the chaos, there will very rarely be a time when you don’t know who is where and what is happening. This works well for the overall aura of simplicity that radiates throughout each aspect of Ronimo’s delightful title, and the controls are no different. A row of buttons complement the top of your screen at all times, giving you access to unit creation, upgrades and magical abilities. Simply point and choose using the Wiimote and the world is yours. Upon creation, units will automatically start their march towards the right of the screen, as your base is normally positioned to the far left of the screen with your enemies or objectives to the right. This is side-scrolling at its finest. The Wiimote’s D-pad gives you quick left-to-right access, and once you’ve mastered these light controls you’ll be set to up the game’s difficulty level.
The length of Swords & Soldiers’s main storyline will vary greatly depending on the initial difficulty you’ve chosen to play at and your affinity for real-time strategy games coming into the title. Expect to be playing anywhere from 10-20 hours. This is one side of the game that will frustrate both newcomers and veterans alike, as the varying levels of difficulty throughout the campaigns is anything but progressive – you could spend up to an hour on a middle-of-the-road level, and then progress through the campaign’s climactic showdown in under ten minutes. Some form of difficulty progression or challenge level warning would have been entirely beneficial and much appreciated, as nobody is grateful for having to restart a stage that quickly progresses from casual to absurdly difficult. Either way, when the hardships arise and are overcome, you won’t be able to help but feel that more content could have been fit into the package. Maybe “yearn” for more content is a more appropriate term, and although Swords & Soldiers delivers on this front with local versus modes (no online, sadly) one can’t help but escape the disappointing realisation that each campaign could have sported more than 10 levels each.
All in all Swords & Soldiers is a refreshingly successful take on console RTS games and leaves you wishing for more by the time you’re through. The style is vibrant and entertaining, and the overall presentation is lighthearted and easy to enjoy, regardless of your familiarity with RTS games coming into this bizarre take on the genre. If you can get past the bumpy turns in difficulty and the shorter storyline, Swords & Soldiers runs for 1000 Wii points – or about ten bucks – and is easily recommendable for any Wii owner, with the local multiplayer only working to sweeten the deal.