Swords & Soldiers Micro-Review: Violence Included

WiiWare had been hurting for games about killing. But the originators of de Blob have released a cartoon-violent battle between Vikings, Aztecs and ninja monkeys to more than compensate.

As an interruption from a WiiWare line-up of bonsai barbering, beanbag-tossing and goo-fueled bridge-building we now can download Ronimo Games' Swords & Soldiers, a side-scrolling real-time strategy game for one player or two. It's like Patapon without the controllable drumbeats and with a lot more Aztec sacrifice.

But in the demo-free zone that is Nintendo's Wii download service, is it fun enough for your 10 bucks?

Loved
The Look And Feel: Side-scrolling RTS is a sketchy proposition. But thanks to bold and bright character design and a minimalist remote-only control scheme, it's quite easy and enjoyable to hire gold-miners and begin generating the Viking axe-men, corpse-resurrecting shamans, golden giants, old Chinese men and other warriors at your disposal. Depending on which of the three ethnic groups you control, you have a different tech trees' worth of characters to generate or spells to elicit. Those characters you generate go on a victory march to the right of your screen, usually to destroy a base about 20 screen lengths away… unless you're a bad strategist. Then it's just a sorry death march.

Boulders, Sacrifices And More Unexpected Stuff: The game's first campaign is deceptively simple. As the Vikings you learn the basics (and hunt down a killer chili pepper – the game's kind of a comedy). Ten missions and at least an hour later, you get to play as the Aztecs, and that's when Ronimo's originality begins to shine. Effective Aztec strategy involves sacrificing warriors, a tactic opposite to winning with brute Viking numbers. The Aztec and Asian campaigns reveal many surprising units, tactics and special attacks, including the unleashing of a player-controlled screen-tall bouncing boulder and others I won't spoil.

Hated
Aged Thinking Why must I play the three campaigns in only one order? Why must the default difficulty become so hard halfway through Aztec, but then not allow me to switch to the locked Asian campaign instead? And I hope the levels don't have as narrow an array of winning strategies as it sometimes seemed. The best strategy games should allow hard-thinking players multiple paths to victory. I suspect there are multiple methods for some of Swords & Soldiers' most vexing levels, but I found quite a few that seemed to have only one right way to win – as best as I could deduce.

At a time when the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3's downloadable services have hit a bit of a lull, WiiWare finally is coalescing into a platform with several varied and well-made games.

Swords & Soldiers could have easily sold for more than its list price, as its graphics and sound are top quality, and its 30-mission campaign, bonus missions and split-screen multiplayer present a generous package. For the team to not stumble while making a game in such an untested genre is quite an achievement. Plus, it has violence.

Swords & Solders was developed by Ronimo Gamesfor the Wii's downloadable game service WiiWare on June 8. Retails for 1000 Nintendo points ($10 USD) Played through all three campaigns over about six hours, dropping from the default difficulty halfway through. Played the bonus missions and sampled the game's split-screen multiplayer.

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