Swords & Soldiers

Sony PlayStation3
rated E10+ / $9.99
rel. September 2010

GOOD: Beautiful and brilliant strategy game

BAD: Some legacy interface issues

FINAL: You NEED this game.
5 out of 5 stars

Courtesy Sony Online Entertainment

"Swords & Soldiers" is a brilliant strategy game that takes its cues from legendary names like "Warcraft," but repaints itself in a fun, cartoony world. Even more impressive is that the game streamlines the classic build-and-dominate concept with smart, console-specific controls.

Covering the tongue-in-cheek struggles of three warring factions - Vikings, Aztecs and Chinese - "Swords & Soldiers" teaches you how to play all three during a lengthy campaign mode. Each army has different units and therefore different plans of action, but with only a handful of fighters and spells, you're never overwhelmed by the choices. The single-player campaign does a great job of easing you into each, so you can find your favorite team for multi-player gaming.

Like many real-time strategy games, "S&S" has two resources to fuel the army: gold and magic. Mined by workers (protect them!), gold is used to buy the units and research the spells. Your army members, when "built," simply march to the right, fighting any enemies they find. This makes the game sort of like an ongoing, two-player "Tower Defense" game. You can't make your army stop. They ceaselessly walk until they find something to battle. You need to consider what kind of units you build and in what order, so as to give your faction the best chance of winning.

As you learn what troops you have available, you can devise your own patterns. The Aztecs, for example, have a sorcerer that turns battlefield corpses into fightin' mad warrior skeletons. This guy has no direct attack of his own, so he needs to be behind some of your army's other, more self-sufficient units. With the right people in front of the sorcerer, he can linger in the back and re-animate a massive undead phalanx.

The magical energy resource is used at your discretion when you want to personally do some damage on the battlefield. The metaphor at work here is that you - the player - are the all-seeing leader of the army. (In fact, the game's characters will refer to you by name with their requests.) The spells you cast often represent your direct contact with your men or against the enemy. The Vikings' lightning bolt spell is very useful for applying a quick ZOT of damage to an opposing troop, while the Chinese yin-yang spell allows you to instantly clone any friendly fighter.

When "Swords & Soldiers" debuted on Nintendo's downloadable WiiWare service in the summer of 2009, the game used the Wii Remote's pointing function to great effect. While this new PlayStation3 version does retain some vestigial remnants of the Wii original (see: the menu buttons that seem to want to be clicked on via a floating arrow), the gameplay controls have been optimized for the PS3 controller. Pressing a shoulder button invokes a circular menu, allowing for easy selection of unit-building or spellcasting.

The game has received a few other upgrades during the transition from Wii to PS3. This "S&S" turns the game's original list of "achievements" into honest-to-goodness PlayStation Network Trophies. And, of course, the whole thing now runs in stunningly vibrant high-definition graphics. The game also has an optional 3D display mode for 3D television sets.

That's important because a great portion of "Swords & Soldiers'" appeal is the thoroughly fun look and feel. The basis of the Aztec campaign involves protecting a giant pepper that they need to win a vegetable contest! This is about as far away from the heavy, Tolkien-saturated fantasy of Warcraft as you can get. It's ridiculous, breezy silliness. The only mark against the game's presentation is the unfortunate tendency toward stereotyping, particularly in some of the Chinese voice sound effects. Really? Some people still think it's funny to have Asian characters turn "R"s into "L"s?

"S&S" on PS3 also supports online multi-player, which the Wii version sorely lacked. The online multi-player is extremely user-friendly, allowing the game to search for online opponents in the background while you continue in the single-player campaign or muck about in one of the bonus challenges. When a match is found, your single-player progress is frozen in place; you return to it once your multiplayer is finished.

"Swords & Soldiers" is a standout on WiiWare and it is again a standout on PlayStation Network. Download either as soon as you can.