Ronimo Games’ Swords & Soldiers [$2.99 / HD] is a stripped-down, side-scrolling RTS that offers a decent amount of creative situational content inside a shell that otherwise doesn’t torture standard genre tropes. The gorgeous visual direction and whimsical writing emits an unusual, but comfortable warmth. Most levels boast sharp, sometimes dramatic change-of-pace mechanics or objectives with different factions. And there’s several different types, and modes, of play mixed into and out-of its feature-complete and content-rich campaign. Yet, at its core, this is still a game that revolves around troop spam just like all the others -- it's this other stuff that makes it a unique offering.

Sword & Soldiers first appeared on downloadable console platforms in 2009 and later on PC and Mac. Nothing I’ve noticed has been added since those respective debuts aside from the touch implementation found in this specific version, which is smooth to the point that it feels natural, as if this was the lead platform.

There are three goofy, well-animated factions: the Vikings, the Aztecs, and the Chinese. The campaign mode boasts three separate mini-campaigns using each where you’ll see the qualities that separate each faction from the other. The Aztecs boast mechanics that revolve around death. The Vikings, on the other hand, heal with spells and use defensive structures, while the Chinese can conjure statues that bolster spell casting. The mini-campaigns' weaves are a part of the whole tapestry and they spin into each other after a few missions. These plot points are as satisfactorily offbeat as the overall aesthetic.

To the game’s credit, it often leverages the unique abilities of each faction in missions, but the moment-to-moment action revolves around “troop spam” tak. It counts on it, in fact, because the game, at its core, is about management: can you manage building gold miners while also babysitting an upgrade tree and spitting out troops? That's the typical question it asks throughout the campaign, which does, despite being somewhat mechanically dull with its defend-the-castle missions, hold up over the haul.

Part of what makes Sword & Soldiers satisfying is that you don’t have to budget build orders, consider micro-details, or give much of consideration to strategies. You build and fight with a small number of troops in manageable streams, while complimenting your troop attacks with muddle, attack, or defensive-minded spells. This is RTS stripped to its core, and for what it's worth, it's a nice, easy-going approach that I enjoy. You're afforded time to zone out and simply enjoy the experience.

The game has a tendency to break down in some specific instances. When the AI decides to toss out globs of enemies to attack your streams of individual troops, there's not much you can do about that other than buckle down and hope you've picked the right troops in your streams, else they'll be knocking at your door soon. Also, some of the missions in the campaign mixes the action up by giving you simple defend objectives, no gold supply, or limited resources to work with. In some of these missions, it's obvious the designers want you to use a specific tool, and if you don't, you'll lose fast and hard annoyingly.

There is no online multiplayer, but it does offers a horizontal local two-player mode. I don’t have a pal that would be interested in giving this a go with me, but just in general testing I’ve noticed that, like in the campaign, mass and smart spell usage are the keys to success.

Sword & Soldiers might be shackled to side-scrolling RTS convention, but it’s smart and vibrant where it counts. The HD version in particular is the best, as the extra screen space goes a long way in bringing the game to life in a comfortable and manageable way. If you're in the mood for a full-featured title, this wouldn't be a bad one to scoop up. I dig it, at least.

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TouchArcade Rating

  • KDR_11k

    The campaign doesn't really express it (what RTS campaign does?) but the game has a very clear progression from early to late game with plenty of strategic decisions and cheese tactics you can employ. That comes through in the skirmish mode. Deciding what and when to tech is critical for the early game, you have to decide how many workers to build, when to start military production, what units and spells you want to go for (e.g. as Vikings vs Aztecs the Berserkers are a bad first choice while the Axe Throwers fail against the Chinese). You can decide to go for towers early and build a forward outpost near the enemy base, attempting to box them in and snipe their workers. You can go spell happy by researching mana boosters early or spend that money on troops instead.

    Choosing badly can leave you pretty defenseless while you wait for your expensive research to finish or you end up with a lower economy growth after you went for an early military push that failed to cripple the enemy.

    Of course spell micro comes into play as well, especially the Vikings are built around their Rage spell while being kinda lacking in mid-game anti-crowd weapons (freeze hammers require a bit of time to use which you often won't get and the catapult is late game). The Aztecs can screw with enemy workers by dropping poison clouds on their path which slows them down (meaning less money) or use cages to decide the early fights, the Chinese can decide to pump all their mana into cloning troops to boost their military strength like crazy or drop arrow rains and such on enemies.

    • James Dailey

      cool story bro.

      No seriously - I loved this game on the Wii. I agree with Brad about the warmth of the artwork. And with 3 civs, each matchup has different strategies - even during different parts of the battle. I'm picking this up for the ipad.

  • Fokion

    Ι don't think I'll be able to spend too much time on this game - yet I bought it. We need to encourage quality games with more depth on iOS, even if they are ports. 

Swords and Soldiers Reviewed by Brad Nicholson on . Rating: 4