The strategy genre has gone quite ignored on WiiWare. Aside from the launch title Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King the only other game was the recent Crystal Defenders R1. With Swords & Soldiers, Dutch developer Ronimo Games has taken a stab at bringing the RTS (real-time strategy) sub-genre into the mix.
One of the things you're likely to notice first is that the entire game is side-scrolling. This is in stark contrast to all other well-known RTS franchises, such as Command and Conquer and Starcraft, which instead feature an overhead map to command units on. Surprisingly, the game still manages to have quite a lot of depth. The game also has a very light-hearted cartoony graphical style, which looks great and really brings it all alive. The cartoon chaos is also accentuated by a great musical score, which changes as various things happen on the battlefield. For example, when an enemy starts an attack the music will suddenly become a bit more upbeat.
In Swords & Soldiers you can play as three "factions" - the Vikings, the Aztecs and the Chinese. Of course, these aren't just different visually - all of their units, buildings and spells have completely different functions, except for the primary "worker" unit. For all factions, this unit does nothing more than walk to goldmines, collecting gold and bringing it back to the base - But it's essential you have a lot of them (the maximum, however, is 10) because gold is needed to create additional units, or research new unit types and spells.
For example, the primary Viking unit is the Berserker - he relies on raw power and as such has more health than any other "basic" unit, and dishes out more damage. The Aztecs have the Jaguar Warrior, who always gets the first strike but doesn't have much health, while the Chinese have Foot-soldiers, who are pretty average in terms of attack power but have the added perk of randomly being able to deflect projectiles like throwing axes.
Each of the armies has three "basic" units in addition to the standard "worker", but they've also got one "strong" unit. Naturally, these cost quite a bunch, but they can turn the tide of any battle if used at the correct time. The Vikings naturally use catapults, while the Aztecs have a massive golem called the "Sun Giant" and the Chinese use the Zen Master, who can immobilize one unit at a time by lifting them into the air and then killing them with a single attack!
Every faction also has a single "tower" which you can build on designated building spots - the Vikings just have a plain old defensive tower which can be mounted by a single Axe Thrower to increase his throwing range and shield him from most attacks. The Aztecs can create a giant statue which shoots laser beams at nearby enemies, and the Chinese can create a Buddha statue to increase the speed at which their mana replenishes (we'll get to that in a bit).
The beauty of the game is that you don't really command any of the units. Once you've created them they'll simply march off to the enemy base and attack any enemy units along the way - they will never even turn around to head back to their own base. However, you can aid them in their journey - Every faction has a bunch of spells, some of which can be used on the enemy and some of which can be used on your own units.
For example, a Viking unit will win against almost every other unit as long as the enemy unit is alone - With the Heal spell you can just keep replenishing your Viking’s health. If you'd rather take matters into your own hands it's possible as well - The temptation of throwing a Poison Bomb into a large group of enemies as the Aztecs is all too great. Each faction also has a "super" spell, which costs a ton of mana, but will eradicate a large amount of enemies.
The most fun of these is that of the Aztecs - Their Boulder spell will create a gigantic rock that rolls from your base to the enemy's, killing every friendly and enemy unit along the way in one hit (Except for catapults and Sun Giants, who will be knocked down to near death) until it hits a tower or the enemy base. The fun in this comes from the fact that you can actually hit A to make the boulder jump - meaning you can possibly wipe out all the enemies and have a clear path to victory, or kill all of your own units and be in serious trouble!
All spells use different amounts of mana, and you'll have to be very careful not too spend too much. At the beginning of each stage you'll usually get a generous amount of it, but during the rest of the level it'll slowly regenerate. Only the Aztecs have the ability to quickly gain a bunch of it with their Sacrifice spell - this will naturally kill a friendly unit, converting their remaining health into mana. The other factions will have to wait for their mana to come back no matter what, although they can affect it slightly - the Vikings can upgrade their mana recovery speed up to three times in exchange for a large amount of gold, while the Chinese can build the aforementioned Buddha statues to increase the speed for each statue in play (although you might be in trouble if the level doesn't have a lot of places to build!).
The game's main gameplay mode is the Campaign. In this, you can play as any of the three factions as you try to make it through each of their ten unique levels. On the faction selection screen, initially, only the Vikings are lit up, but you can actually select the Aztecs and Chinese as well. Be warned though, because these are quite a bit harder and the AI is noticeably more aggressive in them.
Most of the missions in the campaign require you to destroy the enemy base - simply push forward slowly, by making the right units at the right time, until they reach the base and destroy it before the enemy can make more units. Some missions give you different objectives though, such as collecting a certain amount of gold or simply surviving long enough to escape. All in all there's a decent amount of variety, and the three campaigns will last you quite a while, as each takes about 2 hours to clear.
Once you've gotten to a certain point in a campaign you'll unlock a mini-game (or "challenge") based around the corresponding faction. The Chinese mini-game is the most basic - it's just a full-fledged, endless version of the "survival" concept from some campaign levels. If you're really good it can go on for over half an hour! The Aztecs get a mini-game based around their "Boulder" spell, in which you try to kill all 100 Vikings while jumping over all Aztecs.
The Vikings get the biggest mini-game - In Berserker Run, you control a single Berserker unit as he runs through a gigantic stage fighting a whole bunch of enemies. You have to aid him with spells from all three factions combined, and at certain points you'll get the option to pick one out of two new ones - Choose wisely!
Naturally, an RTS game cannot go without a multiplayer mode, and Swords & Soldiers is thankfully no exception. It's got a fully customizable versus mode in which you can play against the AI (to practice!) or a human. Of course, all three factions are available, and both sides can also pick the same one. There are even multiple maps to pick from. If you and your friend are both equally strategic, though, these matches can go on for quite a while - keep in mind the game is side-scrolling, so if you both perfectly counter each others' moves there'll just be one big fight in the centre that never ends!
The final feature is one which Xbox 360, PS3 and PC gamers are all too aware of - The game features 25 achievements which are awarded for achieving various, well, achievements! For example, try destroying the enemy base with a Boulder spell to unlock "RickRolled"!
Swords & Soldiers is a delightfully light-hearted take on the strategy genre. With 3 campaigns, each of which is over 2 hours long, three minigames, a multiplayer mode, and achievements to collect, it will keep you entertained for a very long time; needless to say, it's an essential download. With this game and the original PC version of de Blob under their belts already, Ronimo Games have proven themselves to be yet another great Dutch developer, and we greatly anticipate any future WiiWare projects from them.