Easy to learn but tricky to intricately master, Ronimo’s side-scrolling strategy game Swords and Soldiers II brings with it a distinct flavour to Wii U’s Nintendo eShop.
Continuing the warring tale that began in WiiWare’s Swords and Soldiers, it marks the return of the tankard-swigging Vikings but sees the Aztecs and Imperial Chinese switched out for other factions. In their place, the Dutch developer has instead rallied the mystic Persians and unleashed a Demonic horde from the infernal depths of Hell.
Our story begins in Sultan Al’Beards’ damp treasure cave, stuffed with gold, gems and precious artefacts when a herd of Demons unexpectedly break in to steal a coveted lamp. Nearly within their grasp, the Sultan commands an invisible Desert Stalker to carry it to another secret location nearby. The narrative is largely driven by each faction fumbling to retain possession of the lamp, a series of 15 levels carrying them across the lands in doing so.
Battles take place across layered 2D planes, sometimes with diverging paths. With players situated at opposing ends of the battleground, scenarios largely play out as a war of attrition. Worker minions must be used to gather stacks of gold and mana that are periodically parachuted in, building up such resources to then spend them on a welcomingly varied selection of units and spells to try and gain an advantage.
Once created, units will begin their steady march forward and will fight any enemy units that they come across. Your ultimate goal is to destroy the enemy’s base to claim victory, which can often prove more difficult than at first appears.
Spells will let you summon lightning bolts and turn unsuspecting foes into sheep, but it is super spells that easily prove a highlight. Whether that be Ol’ Larry’s Rampage, slashing enemies on the touchscreen with Dance of Daggers or the meteoric carnage of Matt’s Fury, these are destructive powers at their mightiest.
Slight niggles come in the fact that, regardless of the hoards of gold that you amass, you can’t queue up multiple units to be created at once. Similarly, once trained you can’t hold back units to amass a miniature army before attacking together, which means that you often feel as if you’re left to gamble units away as they’re picked off one-by-one.
Some would argue that lends to the game’s strategic nature, but when a ‘Stop’ spell is introduced later on that allows you to do so it left me wondering why it hadn’t been there from the start.
Beyond completion the campaign serves up Bonus and Open Battles, the latter leaving you to choose your own selection of units and spells to use. Whereas all levels have specified challenges for you to complete, whether that be keeping certain units alive or completing the level within a time limit.
Whereas Multiplayer options will allow you to go head-to-head with a friend (or against the CPU), with one player playing on the Wii U GamePad while the other is left to use the TV screen. This works well, and I enjoyed the ensuing hilarity as my opponent and I tried to outsmart one another. Meanwhile, other welcome GamePad implementation sees the player being able to opt to use touchscreen controls, that shift your focus away from buttons and instead tap heartily away on the screen.
It’s clear that Swords and Soldiers II has been a passion project for Ronimo, painstakingly detailed landscapes matched by a script packed with witty repartee that perfectly suits the game’s riotous cast of characters. The developer’s meticulous work produces an experience that entirely betters the original, even if its resounding battlecry isn’t wholeheartedly triumphant.