I can't believe I like this game.
Traditionally, two kinds of games have always turned me off: tower defense and real-time strategy. These two genres are often simplistically combined into a single genre that I abhor. But Swords & Soldiers HD—an upscale port of a 2009 WiiWare game—is actually enjoyable, probably because it’s so damn simplified.
Reading our review of the original game is instructive regarding the game’s structure and gameplay, nailing the high points. Swords & Soldiers is a side-scrolling RTS where gold is your only minable resource (mana restores itself) and each of the three groups in the game (Vikings, Aztecs, and Chinese) have analogous-but-unique units with which to slaughter the other two. For example: Vikings have a healing spell, Aztecs can summon the undead, and the Chinese are skilled range fighters. It is unfortunate that you can’t choose your faction right away. Rather, you have to complete each faction’s campaign before moving on to the next.
What’s nice on the Wii U is that everything is already on the GamePad—you can tap to build units, research upgrades and spells, and tap individual areas of the playfield to do different things. Want to see what’s up ahead? Just swipe with the stylus or tap on the little mini-map at the bottom of the screen. If anything, the multitasking can get a little overwhelming—I lost several matches because I was constantly flipping between building units, casting spells (or using abilities) and managing my upgrade menu instead of watching what was actually going on. I am also terrible at waiting to let my gold (or mana) build up to allow upgrades to become available. So I had to learn the basics before I could make real progress, but once I did, I started getting in the groove.
The game also looks great, with crisp HD visuals and a unique, charming art style. The background music tends to be forgettable, but it is always appropriate. My biggest gripe is that whenever you summon a new unit, that unit blurts out a catchphrase. This catchphrase never changes. So, for example, if you’re summoning a lot of Viking Axe-Throwers to occupy your towers, you’re gonna hear “X marks the spot!” a whole lot. It gets really old really fast.
Swords & Soldiers isn’t especially long, containing three campaigns with 10 missions apiece, but you can go into Skirmish mode for practice sessions and unlock some interesting mini-games. There’s even an interesting two-player mode in which one player uses the GamePad and another play uses the TV and a Wii Remote, which is fantastic. The Viking campaign shouldn’t give you much trouble, but the difficulty spikes with the Aztecs and Chinese in a gentle way. Swords & Soldiers HD is surprisingly fun, and I’m glad I played it.