Preview: Swords & Soldiers HD

The best of both worlds

The WiiWare platform may not always be considered in a particularly glowing light, but it's undeniable that it did deliver some top-class download experiences. One of these was Swords & Soldiers from Ronimo Games, a side-scrolling real-time strategy title that made use of the Wii Remote pointer in an intuitive, natural way. Now Two Tribes is stepping in and publishing Swords & Soldiers HD on the Wii U eShop — having also produced an Android and iOS version — and we've taken on some battles to gauge the differences and whether an upgrade is worth your consideration.

The legacy of Two Tribes porting the title to smart devices is clear for all to see, in a positive sense, with the GamePad controls that are on offer. They're the primary area of distinction from WiiWare, as pointing is replaced with touch controls. As single and double taps are the primary inputs, there's much to be said for the precision offered by the stylus and resistive screen, which are ideal for the somewhat challenging levels that this title throws at you.

As you may recall from the WiiWare original, this real-time strategy approach places an emphasis of quick actions, with no direct control over units — your task is to find a right balance in using your money to invest and boost your available units and on-field assets. Mana, on the other hand, is a slowly replenishing source — which can be sped up through buying upgrades — used for magic or special abilities. You manage these aspects as your created units simply march to the right automatically, giving this a blend of genuine strategy and slightly frenzied action as you constantly replenish your army or unleash magic on the enemy. When in full flow it's as enjoyable a combination as it ever was.

The GamePad controls certainly cater to that desire for speed, and could be invaluable for those that found the campaign got too hot to handle on Wii. As before there are three tribes with separate campaigns — Vikings, Aztec and Chinese — and with the first down and the second underway we've found the going marginally easier this time around. It's all down to upgrades and purchases being a simple tap away, while moving left and right on the 2D battlefield is available with a swipe or flick on the right control stick. It's an excellent setup.

That said, playing on the GamePad has one downside — your eyes are glued to that smaller, lower resolution screen; it's big enough to control well, but that tablet-style option also means you can't enjoy the HD resolution boost of this version. It's a toss up, then, as Two Tribes has included Wii Remote pointer controls, as per the WiiWare original, to allow you to enjoy the spruced up visuals on the TV. The cartoon-like, caricatured units are still as full of verve as ever and look terrific — the visuals pop on a HD screen and stand up well to current-day standards. The downside of TV play is that the Wii Remote simply doesn't offer the speed and precision of touch, so it's down to individual players which option suits them best. For our money the GamePad is the way to go for the best performance.

Beyond the single player campaign there are unlockable challenges — one for each tribe — and a Skirmish mode, which allows you to customise aspects such as difficulty and map size for ad-hoc battles. Most notable is the return of local Multiplayer, which is a good example of how titles can be genuinely improved on Wii U beyond a superficial HD upgrade. As opposed to a split-screen each player now has a full screen each, with one using the GamePad touch screen and the other utilising the TV and pointer controls. It's a nice way for both players to have full viewpoints, and those interested in fairness will probably alternate between control schemes. If you beat your opponent with the GamePad and Wii Remote, you'll truly be the master of that battle.

Having played a dozen or so single player campaign levels and dabbled with the other modes, we're confident that this is a faithful and attractive port of the excellent original. It retains its appeal in the current day, as the simplicity of building resources and sending auto-moving soldiers forth is combined with a surprising degree of strategic depth. We're already noticing that same difficulty curve, and mindlessly spamming the wrong units or wasting resources does get punished. As we argued in our WiiWare review, there's more to this than may be obvious at first glance.

We're certainly positive about this one, on the way soon and likely at a thoroughly reasonable price. With Swords & Soldiers II currently in development this HD remake, with some GamePad bells and whistles included, could be an ideal warm-up for the future Wii U exclusive.

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