Crossposted from TK-Nation. TK-Nation's a South-East Asian gaming site that plays home to news about quality underdogs from the gaming world, indie cosplay and video game collectibles.
While Swords and Soldiers has only recently debuted on Steam, the game itself actually has been around for more than a year. Initially released as a Wii title, it gained numerous accolades and subsequently, I imagine, propelled the developers into releasing it for the PC.
Best. Decision. Ever.
I would have been very sad otherwise. In fact, I would have been so sad that I might have gone out to purchase a Wii just to engage in the rambunctious chaos that is Romino Games' debut production. Personifying the best of Saturday morning cartoons, Swords and Soldiers is a brain-rotting, eccentric, wildly hysterical affair that proves, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that real-time strategy needn't be so damn grim.
But oh, make no mistake. The game is violent. You will wage war and your units will die. Huge battles, desperate last-stands are all common place in Swords and Soldiers. However, it's hard to not want to giggle hysterically when squat, bushy-haired vikings faceplant on the ground with their tongues stuck out or when your squad of ninja monkeys let out horrified 'Eeks!' in response to being struck by lightning. This 2D side-scrolling real-time strategy game is family-rated entertainment at its finest and by god, it will make you feel like a kid again whether you like it or not.
Underneath the goofy, over-the-top humor is surprisingly compelling gameplay. Multiple modes are available; campaign, multiplayer, skirmishes and challenges. The first three are self-explanatory while the challenges are basically a variety of unlockable mini-games pertinent to the game. While it's nice to be able to engage your friends in not-quite-mortal combat, the campaign mode is the effervescent, beating heart of the whole endeavor.
Oh noes, dead people!
Three factions are available for play in Swords and Soldiers: the savage Vikings, the crafty Aztec and the clever Chinese. Though such words might normally conjure images of ferocious Northerners and spell-weaving Asians, the reality is as far from such fancies as it can possibly get. Here, the Vikings are rotund little midgets obsessed with executing the perfect barbeque. The Aztec obsessed with chilli, directionally-challenged and blatantly indifferent to human rights. Being Chinese, I'll admit that I might be unfairly biased in my complete adoration of the faction. But, come on! The Chinese are short yellow people with faces like, well, round smiley faces. What's there not to like here? Oh, and they also have squishy-looking dragons for pets and an obsession with toys.
The storyline is somewhat paper-thin. The Vikings want to beat down Blackbeard for ruining their barbecue. The Aztec are alternatively lost somewhere or trying to keep their precious gigantic chilli safe and the Chinese emperor just wants to acquire more toys. Still, this doesn't stop the game from being one of the best things I've played this year.
Viking, viking, viking, viking - SHUT UP! (Anyone catch the reference?)
There are only a limited variety of units available to each of the races but each and every one possess different abilities and appearances. Aztec jaguar men charge their opponents while the Chinese rocketeers explode upon death. Tiny, slow-moving Viking Frosthammers can two-shot enemies, a suitable foil to the legions of flimsy undead that the Aztec witch doctors can summon and the teleporting, ninja simians beholden to the Chinese. Only the menial labor share a common function and even they look vastly different from each other; the Vikings have busty, blonde gold diggers, the Chinese have monks.
Asides from your army, there are towers and spells to take into consideration. Towers are straight forward; they can block and damage encroaching armies. Spells, on the other hand, provide an additional layer of gameplay. You'll have a number of offensive and defensive enchantments to work you into your strategic rotation and depending on your disposition, you might find yourself using more of one than the other. For example, Andrew Ting heavily prefers the Viking's lightning to anything else while I'm personally a stickler for endless heals.
Thor wants to have his BBQ ribs. He wants it now.
Those of you who might have heard of the first incarnation of Swords and Soldiers may also know that reviewers, though heartily approving of the game, have also mentioned an issues with the controls; targeting specific soldiers with your spells was somewhat difficult. It might please you naysayers to know that that's not the case with the PC version. The mouse is definitely far more precise. Which is good, I guess, because that's all you'll really be doing outside of building new units.
Unlike most real-time strategy games, Swords and Soldiers does not permit any direct control over your little, technicolored minions. Once they've popped out of the conveyor belt, they'll march slowly and surely across the map till they either find an enemy to thwack or drop dead from unnatural circumstances. This might be more than somewhat vexing for veteran armchair generals but it also makes this quirky little offering more universally accessible.
With little minimal micromanagement needed, your job now involves determining building order and timing the construction of your little henchmen. It sounds simple, yes, but throw your catapults out there without escorts and they'll be kindling but keep them safe and they'll help you barrel through your opponent's defenses. I can't help but get the feeling that Swords and Soldiers was designed with the younger audience in mind or is the next step in the evolution of a Flash game somewhere. The mechanics are simple, ludicurously simple but they work so well.
Granted, the mission objectives themselves are pretty innovative. One minute, you'll be holding skeletal squads at bay. The next, you'll be working to rescue a vastly overrun chilli production plant. Romino Games has done an exemplary job at mixing and matching the possibilities, keeping everything tangy fresh.
Heck, even the challenges are fun. Again, they make me wonder if Swords and Soldiers saw its conception in the womb of a Flash game somewhere. So far, both of the challenges I've unlocked seem to call into the category. In one, players are tasked with keeping a slow-moving berserker alive for as long as possible via the usage of a shield and a healing spell. In the other, you'll be leading an Indiana Jones-esque boulder down the countryside and attempting to smash as many enemies as possible without similarly turning your own compatriots into pancakes.
I told you they had monkeys!
The cheerful environments, lush graphics and wholesome attitude might not be everyone's cup of tea. I also don't forsee many manly men being willing to subject themselves to the diabetes-inducing goodness here; it'd probably put a lot of things into question. However, if you're just as shameless about enjoying the cute things in life as I am, I do strongly recommend you pick up this title. It's going to be Christmas soon. You're going to have little nieces and nephews to contend with. Get this game, play it with them, keep them quiet and make their parents love you. Show the world that video games needn't be a complete gore fest and filled with leggy blondes.
Swords and Soldiers is the best
$9.99 you'll ever spend on your inner child.
Author rating (and I don't do this often but I do this now because I want to drive the point home):9/10