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Swords & Soldiers

Flat-pack RTS.

These factors remove a lot of the freedom RTS fans will be used to and shift the emphasis away from geographical strategy onto a strategy of process, that of choosing which units to create in what order. As your units all move at different speeds, much of the challenge derives from perceiving the timing of creating, say, a slow-paced Aztec giant and a fast-paced necromancer so that they'll arrive at their target concurrently.

As well as gold, your units also accrue mana that can be used to purchase spells. These spells are used by you, as an esoteric force on the field, rather than given to any particular unit. Purchase the heal spell, for example, and you'll be able to race about applying magical first aid to units in trouble. Likewise, buy the snowstorm spell and you can bury a battalion of advancing enemies in a temporary avalanche, allowing your units to group together around them.

Each faction presents ten missions to play through, the stories that drive the scenarios as bold and silly as the graphics that act them out. While most of the missions require you to overcome a rival force and destroy their base, these are mixed up with challenges where you have, for example, a limited amount of gold to spend or a set amount of time, for which you have to merely survive.

A detailed statistical rundown follows every mission, recording the time taken to completion, the amount of gold mined, the number of warriors deployed, spells used and enemies killed. However, your performance in each area doesn't contribute to an overall rating or score, so there's little incentive to play through the campaign for a second time beyond gunning for missed achievements.

Certain missions restrict you to a limited set of units, while others require you to simply fulfill the level objectives within a strict time limit.

A two-player skirmish mode offers longevity after the core single-player game is finished. Splitting the screen horizontally, each player churns out units in an effort to shunt the frontline ever closer to their opponent's base. As with many RTS titles, two evenly-matched players will find often themselves in a deadlock, repeating the same few interactions over and over again in the hope that their opponent is first to make a mistake. In these protracted two-player matches, the game shows its repetitive core. Indeed, there's no denying that, across both the single-player and multiplayer modes, it's at its best when it's brief. Missions or matches that last for more than fifteen minutes become something of a drag.

But in bite-sized chunks Swords & Soldier is a riotous experience, bursting with the kind of visual character and creativity that typifies Behemoth's Castle Crashers on Xbox Live Arcade, while offering a rare sort of mechanical polish. As with PopCap's best titles, Swords and Soldiers reworks the weary conventions of its tradition to compelling effect. Its deliberately restricted perspective is unlikely to sate the appetites of hardcore RTS fans, but the move to 2D acts as a concentration of the genre's charms, not a dilution, and is perfectly suited to WiiWare. Its vim, accessibility and choice of platform will no doubt do more than almost any other title in recent memory to expand the genre's fanbase.

8 / 10

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