Four years ago, Swords & Soldiers made its debut. WiiWare has always been a mix of titles ranging from brilliant to terrible — with a thick middle section of "mediocre" — but Swords & Soldiers immediately established itself as a must-have. We awarded it a much deserved 9, taken as we were by its charm, its intuitive controls, and its great multiplayer. Now it's available for download on the 3DS as Swords & Soldiers 3D, but rather than an enhanced version of the original game, this feels like a huge step backward.
Swords & Soldiers 3D is very similar in structure to the WiiWare original, but scaled down for the worst in just about every way. The music, we have to say, sounds fine. The sound effects seemed a bit high in the mix, but that was easily fixed by a trip to the settings menu. That about does it for the good news.
The first, and probably largest, piece of bad news is that there is no multiplayer on offer here. At all. For an RTS, that's disappointing. For Swords & Soldiers, where it was practically the game's backbone, that's even worse. Certain options in the game refer to "player 2", but it's just a tease; it's always the CPU.
We know online multiplayer might have been asking a bit much — though, certainly, that would have increased the value of the game tenfold — but the lack of any kind of local two-player mode is a massive disappointment, and it's sure to be a rude awakening for fans of the original who download this one expecting to have the feature intact. Perhaps this should have been called Swords & Soldiers Lite.
Of course that wouldn't be as much of an issue if the single-player campaign were anywhere near as fun as it was on WiiWare. For many, many reasons, it's not.
First of all, the frame rate is a major issue. While it may begin as a relatively minor annoyance, the lag quickly becomes seriously problematic. Inputs are often ignored or misinterpreted, presumably as a side effect of the game's difficulty in rendering its own assets. Even the simple animation of a single unit walking to the right leads to frame skips, a problem that is alleviated only slightly by switching the 3D off completely. It's a big issue, and the resulting loss of responsiveness is even worse.
Additionally, the game controls terribly. While you'd be forgiven for thinking that a game that once controlled with the Wii Remote could now just as easily be controlled with a stylus on a touch screen, you'd be wrong.
If the action took place on the touch screen, then simple taps and swipes should have sufficed. Instead the developers really wanted the game to be in 3D, so it takes place on the top screen instead. Considering that anyone interested in a tolerable frame rate at all will have the 3D switched off, this was pretty clearly the wrong priority.
Instead we control the action on the top screen by using an interface on the touch screen, and this is no Kid Icarus: Uprising. The laggy and imprecise nature of the inputs means you'll always be flicking your eyes from one screen to another to handle even the simplest tasks, taking the "strategy" out of "real-time strategy" and replacing it with "blind, flustered stabbing".
Instead of simply tapping a unit to cast a spell on them, as you should be able to do on a touch screen, you need to find the solider on the top screen, look down to the bottom screen, tap the spell, hold the stylus, look back up to the top screen to see where the cursor is, move the stylus to get it into position, and then press L. If you manage to do this to the correct unit in the heat of battle, you deserve a medal. As it stands, we lost units even in the introductory battles simply because the most basic commands were entirely too cumbersome to execute.
The stages are also constructed in a side-scrolling fashion, which was something we very much enjoyed about the original game. Here, however, it just adds another layer of frustration to the proceedings as scrolling the screen to find the unit you're looking for is far too slippery. You can use either the circle pad or the D-pad to scan left and right across the battlefield, but even the slightest of taps send it sailing away, and by the time you manage to stop it in the correct place the odds are good you already missed the battle, and you'd better hope you won.
Additionally, dialogue boxes and information windows are extremely poorly handled. In the first case, dialogue pops up in the middle of fights, obscuring what's happening without pausing the action. By the time you tap through them, you may well find your units dead. The information windows are meant to convey descriptions of units and spells that you can use, and they display when you tap and hold on the icon. However doing so still counts as a tap, which activates whatever it is you were trying to learn about. This means that if you don't know what something does, there's no way to find out without just buying it. That's not a feature; those descriptions are there, they simply don't display the way they're supposed to. It's bad programming.
The original game was so much fun because its simplicity allowed us to be swept away by the charm. Here the charm stands no chance in the face of constantly wrestling with lag and a terrible interface.
There are three different "races" you can control in the main game, each with a campaign of their own, but if you're interested in this you're better off playing those same campaigns on WiiWare, where you might actually enjoy them. You can also set up one-off battles against the CPU and play some smaller challenge stages (which test how long you can survive, how far you can get in an endless stage, etc.), but they suffer from the same issues above, and are consequently no more fun.
Swords & Soldiers was a simple game about sending some troops to smash enemies to bits. It was basic, quirky fun. This undeserving port, however, is ugly, laggy and lifeless, and unworthy of its own name.
In our review of the original Swords & Soldiers, we said this: "Naturally, an RTS game cannot go without a multiplayer mode", which means it shouldn't come as a surprise that the single-player only approach of Swords & Soldiers 3D is a disappointment. Much more disappointing, however, is just how badly that single-player experience is marred. The frame rate is terrible, the controls are about as poor as we could possibly imagine, and numerous unfortunate design choices intrude on any fun that could be had. Having Swords & Soldiers on the go should have been an easy war to win. Instead, we advise you to beat a hasty retreat.