Swords & Soldiers HD is essentially the original Swords & Soldiers game with a fresh coat of paint for high definition systems. Originally released on Nintendo’s restrictive WiiWare platform, the game was understandably quite scaled back to fit on the service. “HD” manages to bring the full Swords & Soldiers experience to the Wii U, albeit with some clever and intuitive extras.
The general gist of the story is that three different factions – the Vikings, the Aztecs and the Chinese are all vying for the attention and power of various gods and deities. Of course, this requires them to carry out all kinds of mundane tasks, many of which require wars against the other factions. Which forms the basis of the game’s gameplay.
Generally speaking, the story in Swords and Soldier’s is easily the component of the game that the developers were least concerned with and it certainly shows, but the game is still enjoyable without.
Visually, Swords and Soldier borrows a lot from bright and colourful cartoons like Looney Tunes. Characters are well drawn, have distinct and unique (if not mildly culturally insensitive) designs and all looks great. The jump from the original Wii version to the high definition Wii U version is noticeable too, with everything looking brighter, much more colourful and much crisper. Sometimes some of the game’s art and environments err on the side of boring and lifeless, but the characters themselves more than make up for it.
The game also has a very surprisingly well put together and epic-sounding orchestral soundtrack which adds a sense of urgency to each battle and complements the action rather well. There’s a dynamicity to the game’s soundtrack too, with the background music ramping up when the action starts and settling down when it subsides. There’s minimal, although comical voice work that also gives personality to all the different units and three factions available.
Swords and Soldiers is a real time strategy game with a twist – the entire game takes place on a two dimensional plane rather than a three dimensional one. Units can move from left to right, automatically attacking anything they come into contact with. It dramatically simplifies the game itself, but it feels like a perfect fit for a game like this appearing on consoles. It’s simple, but there’s still a degree of strategy involved – like determining what to send out, and when. On top of this, players themselves can cast spells to either buff or debuff units as they (automatically) march towards their goal. In between sending out units, other units can be deployed to collect gold, which can be used to unlock upgrades and deploy even more units.
The use of three different factions changes how each of them play. The Vikings are very straightforward – they pillage gold and use this to pay for upgrades and units. The Aztecs employ methods of sacrifice to further their own means – adding a real layer of strategy to their metagame. The Chinese, on the other hand, must erect statues to gods in order to progress and are easily the most complex faction to master. Each plays differently enough to carry players’ interests throughout the campaign, and it’s especially encouraging to see that each of these factions plays differently rather than being the same thing with a different skin.
Swords and Soldiers comes in four main varieties – a campaign mode, a skirmish mode, a challenge mode and a multiplayer mode. The campaign mode is probably the most interesting – featuring different objectives for players to complete along with some ridiculous but comical justification. Some levels even have multiple ways to be completed too, adding some variety to the fold. Skirmish mode allows players to just have a quick, traditional match while challenge mode adds novel spins to the game’s traditional gameplay. Multiplayer is also quite cleverly implemented on the Wii U, with each player having a whole screen, be it the GamePad or the TV itself, to themselves. There’s also a set of achievements to unlock too, so most players will manage to squeeze at least five to eight hours out of Swords and Soldier’s offerings.
The Wii U version implements a very intuitive touchscreen interface that helps to control units and deployment with a greater degree of finesses and speed than in previous versions of the game. Even better, this control scheme is also available to the player when playing off-screen for a more portable experience. Those who don’t enjoy this admittedly superior control scheme can also control the game with a Wii Remote – as the second player will in multiplayer modes too.