Review: Swords & Soldiers (Wii U eShop)

The battle returns

Originally released exclusively on WiiWare in 2009, Swords & Soldiers has had its fair share of ports in the five years since its initial release; it's made an appearance on almost every platform under the sun. The last of these to grace a Nintendo platform, the 3DS version, was not exactly a shining example of what one would call a "good port", but now the game has appeared on the Wii U — no doubt timed to prepare people for the sequel that is currently in development. With one disappointing handheld port already down for Nintendo gamers, the question is whether this Wii U entry does the original greater justice.

For those still to play the title, Swords & Soldiers is a simplified real-time strategy (RTS) game. This means that unlike games such as Advance Wars and Fire Emblem, it's not turn-based — you don't get as much time as you want to carefully consider your options and make the right moves, everything will instead keep moving as you think and act at the same time. As you'll frequently need to decide between increasing your income, buying more units or researching new features, you can imagine things can get quite hectic.

Swords & Soldiers further differentiates itself from most other strategy titles by not having a bird's-eye view, but rather taking place entirely on a 2D plane where your units will also move automatically — you only click on some buttons to decide what units you want to buy; when they enter the battlefield afterwards, they'll mindlessly plow forward and the only thing you'll be able to do to interact with them is assist them with spells. While you can look around the level with the analogue stick, there's a convenient, simplified map at the bottom of the screen which you can tap to instantly jump around to different positions, great if you need to move up to the front lines quickly to dish out some magical punishment.

Although the Vikings tend to be the poster boys for the game, you can actually play as three completely different groups, each with their own unique units and spells. While the Vikings, for instance, have axe throwers and a healing spell, the Aztecs have poison dart blowers and cage traps, while the Chinese have ninja monkeys and a shield spell. Although each group's units tend to fulfil the same basic roles (Melee, ranged, and stun) the way each of them operates is vastly different; certain units will completely outclass others, making it vital to adjust what units you're pumping out in order to counter the opponent.

If you're not sure what certain units or spells do, don't worry, because each of the three tribes has their own single-player campaign, teaching you exactly how to master them. While the first few missions are quite easy, there are a few challenging ones in the bunch, especially if you're going to try and unlock the game's numerous achievements, some of which require you to perform certain feats in certain missions. The storyline isn't very serious, so expect plenty of jokes!

As you progress through the campaigns, you'll also unlock three challenge modes to sink your teeth into, each themed after one of the groups — these can be a fun way to waste some time. If you're still left wondering about certain things after clearing the campaigns, you can also set up a skirmish match against the AI to further improve your skills.

In the original WiiWare release, all of the gameplay consisted solely of clicking on things on the screen with your Wii Remote's pointer. The 3DS port logically (but unsuccessfully) moved all of this interactivity to the touch screen and had you use the stylus, but for this new version Two Tribes clearly wondered "why not both?" Indeed, both control types are usable this time around — if you're playing with the GamePad, you can tap things on its screen, but if you've opted to play with a Wii remote you can play the game exactly the way it was in 2009.

While the game has made the jump to Wii U in much the same shape as its original release, some features from ports in-between have unfortunately not made the cut — while there is multiplayer, it's offline only, so you cannot literally try to conquer the world. One key bonus point of that local multiplayer, however, is that you can each have a full screen, with one focused on the GamePad and the other using a Wii Remote and the TV. Also missing is the "Super Saucy Sausage Fest" DLC, which included an entire extra campaign; at the time of publication we've been told by Two Tribes — which has produced this version — that it wants to add this DLC but it's dependent on sales of the game.

A major positive, though, is that this is perhaps the nicest-looking version of the game yet, with clean, crisp HD visuals on both your TV and the GamePad. The touch controls, which were not so hot on the 3DS, now work perfectly, with the alternate choice of pointer controls if you so desire; it's all topped off by a very attractive price. Also, don't worry, the great soundtrack has also made the jump completely unscathed.

Conclusion

Five years on, Swords & Soldiers is still an excellent title. It's quite simple compared to most RTS games, but it has just enough depth to make it a highly entertaining experience, especially when it gets ported correctly as it has been in this case. It's a bit of a shame the few extra features it gained in past versions are gone, but at this price we really can't complain too much. Let's hope the sequel is just as good.