Charging to the right

It didn’t take much to convince me to pick up the recent PC release of the indie side-scrolling real time strategy game (RTS) Swords & Soldiers by Ronimo Games.

I was first introduced to this particular subset of the RTS genre by a friend of mine whose day job is a bit boring and as such, he spends a lot of his work day on the internet playing various Flash games.  He’s not much of a gamer otherwise, but knowing that I am, he’ll often email me a link or two when he comes across a particularly fun browser game.  About a year ago he sent me a link for a browser game called Stick Wars

Stick Wars is structured in a way I hadn’t seen before; it is an RTS but boiled down to its bare mechanics.  You generate units who immediately charge to the right until they engage an enemy or are killed.  On a 2-D plane, battles become violent scrums as each side races to push their opponent off of valuable territory by generating the most units the fastest, eventually leading to the destruction of one side’s base.

Reading the description of Swords & Soldiers I quickly realized that this was the same game but fully fleshed out, with bright art full of personality, voiced armies, and multiple modes of play.  After downloading the game I went straight into the campaign mode where you start off playing as the Vikings.  Later you unlock the campaign for the Aztec nation, and the Chinese empire. 

In Swords & Soldiers you spend gold collected by workers on training armies and upgrading your special powers and spells.  Some of your warriors are melee fighters, some fight from a distance, and other have special abilities of varying strategic use.  Your troops charge to the right and engage the enemy without stopping or turning around.  This is something to consider as you may not want to build a unit at a particular moment – there’s no stopping them once recruited.  Also some units, like the Chinese ninja monkeys who can teleport behind enemies, are designed to wreak havoc since your troops won’t turn around to fight them.

A big problem in Stick Wars was that once beaten I didn’t have a lot of desire to play the game again.  Swords & Soldiers avoids that issue as it has three civilizations to choose from.  The Vikings are a bit slow but are stout with tough troops, an available healing spell, and various elemental attacks.  The Aztecs, my favorite, specialize in poison attacks, necromancy, and mind control.  The Chinese have powerful units and potent magic that bolsters and multiplies their ranks. 

Adding to my enjoyment of the game was that many levels of Swords & Soldiers contain new, different challenges. Of course, like many games, you gain new units and spells as you progress, but in some levels you’re without the ability to build an army and are only given a set amount of troops and spell power to get past waiting enemies.  It’s nothing too ground-breaking in the RTS world but the design adds a little spice to what are otherwise many levels of grinding battles.  I also appreciate that you may recruit units from anywhere by selecting icons at the top of the screen.  In Stick Wars, and in many RTS games, you may only recruit units from your base, which can be rather inconvenient when your attention is on the pitched battle at the other end of the map.

In addition to the campaign there are a few other modes of play available: skirmish, if you just want a straight-forward pitched battle; a challenge mode which asks the player to face various tests and have the resulting score recorded on a global scoreboard; and an online mode where you can play other people.  The challenge mode is fun but clearly I’ll need some more time with the game to even come close to reaching the top scores.  I played several rounds of online play as well and was quickly demolished each time – I’ve got to learn to step up the pace against humans.

Swords & Soldiers is loud, brash, and funny – though I do find the game’s name to be ill-fitting.  Swords & Soldiers evokes the image of something more serious where the game is anything but serious with its cartoon style and silly plot.  

As someone who normally isn’t a big fan of the RTS genre I found the game to be an accessible introduction to that style.  I’ve had a blast playing Swords & Soldiers and definitely see it as a game I’ll continually return to long from now.

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