Swords & Soldiers II
System: Wii U
Release Date: May 21, 2015
Publisher (Developer): Ronimo (Ronimo)
ESRB Rating: “Teen” for Fantasy Violence, Suggestive Themes, Mild Language and Use of Alcohol
The original Swords & Soldiers was initially a WiiWare exclusive, so it’s not surprising that its sequel, Swords & Soldiers II, is willing to test the waters on the Wii U. Unlike Affordable Space Adventures, this one has no hardware-specific crucial features, so you’ll likely see it elsewhere eventually. Still, it’s clear that some thought about its one hardware destination has made the game more intuitive and fun.
Where Swords & Soldiers II falters is in its scale: it adheres to the original’s formula, with only three factions, no online multiplayer and no game-changing features of note. But limiting its scope has allowed the team at Ronimo to put a lot of care and effort into these elements.
March ceaselessly into battle
Much like the first outing, Swords & Soldiers II is a side-scrolling real-time strategy game, with the focus on what units you produce and when, rather than where they’re sent. There are occasional path splits that you can navigate by changing the direction a sign is pointing, but generally it’s a matter of launching your fighters at the enemy and hoping they’re still what you need when they make it to the fray. There are also spells, and these are what keep you invested in the moment-to-moment combat: you can heal units, bring lightning down on foes and do other special maneuvers, as long as you’ve bought the spell in question.
The controls are very simple, using the two sticks to access the two menu options, though you can also switch to touch-screen play and just tap everything. Both of these work great, so you won’t have any control issues here. This does mean that there aren’t any snazzy two-screen functions here, but each view is optimized for its respective screen, with larger displays on the TV and controls pushed outward so they’re closer to your hands on the GamePad.
The Viking faction is back for this game, and it’s joined by two new forces: the Persians and the Demons. (Age-old conflicts, right?) Each has its own selection of units and magic, and they play in distinct ways. More specifically, they play a lot like StarCraft‘s three races. The Vikings are easy to learn and use, but can hold their own in competitive play with smart defensive management. The Persians are generally fragile, but have a lot of ways to keep opponents on their toes, like self-healing soldiers and unit-stealing bribes. The Demons are very cheap, very fast and very willing to sacrifice themselves to break through the enemy ranks.
War occasionally changes
The single-player campaign in Swords & Soldiers II once again follows the mobile style, with a map of challenges and extra objectives on each one to increase replay value and reward impressive accomplishments. It’s focused on the Vikings — I think Ronimo just likes doing the voices and making everything about food — but you’ll end up using units from all the factions in various levels. These are interesting on their own, but like most head-to-head games, it generally serves as an extended tutorial, getting you accustomed to the stratagems and gambits you can employ against a human adversary.
It’s interesting, then, that it seems most of the work went into this mode. The two-player game feels like a barebones approach with map choices and a few options, but the scripting in the campaign feels like it was meant to be more than it eventually became. Like Redbeard himself, we spent our time in the campaign hoping to stumble upon just a bit more meat on its bones.
The most compelling reason to play the Swords & Soldiers II campaign is this: doing so unlocks options for making a custom faction, featuring units of your choice from any of the three groups. You can pick four units from each tier, and it forms an ad hoc tech tree that unlocks with enough purchases on the lower level. Making your own special loadout makes it much more enjoyable to play a longer session, as with only three options and a handful of units in each one, it can be a bit repetitive.
So about that multiplayer mode: it’s the reason you should care. Swords & Soldiers II takes the Wii U’s GamePad and uses it to allow screen-vs.-screen play, with the first player solely using the small screen and the other controlling units on the TV using a Pro Controller. It initially seems like the GamePad player is at an advantage, as they can look up and see the opponent’s view, in practice it’s a poor idea to take your eyes off your own army. Even though there’s a lot of launching and seeing what happens, the pace is such that the launching doesn’t let up long enough to do a lot of scouting.
Despite its simplified approach, Swords & Soldiers II feels just as intense as any real-time strategy game in versus play. A rush can be just as devastating (and risky), and a quick grab for territory is important to securing resources and building a formidable defense. The binary nature of split paths mean there’s little you can do to correct yourself in a pinch, but it works in service of the game’s breakneck pace.
Also aiding this pace is the game’s aesthetic. The cartoony visuals look nice enough, but their most important job is getting out of the way and making sure you know what’s happening. One gripe, though, and it’s little: when units get bunched up, sometimes two or three units overlap each other completely and make the back ones virtually invisible. That could use some work.
If you want to play online, you’re… yeah, out of luck. This is the intended way to play the game, and there’s no other way to make it happen. You can play an AI opponent in the “Skirmish” mode, but those battles are less compelling than the campaign maps and really only a way to practice against different combinations and try out custom armies.
Swords & Soldiers II is undeniably charming, occasionally funny and deceptively deep. It’s also very much an experience designed for two local players. If that’s not too limiting for you, then Ronimo does quite a lot to make you a happy player, though even then, you’ll still be wanting more in the package. You’ll want more, though, because what’s here is quite good, and we can’t take that for granted.
A review copy was provided for this review.
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