Even putting aside the gameplay, Swords and Soldiers II is absolutely marvelous. The story, albeit nonsensical, is incredibly charming and filled with great characters. The visuals are absolutely beautiful, with a fantastic style and designs filled with personality. The music is simply gorgeous. To top it all off, the gameplay is indeed an absolute blast, and as a result, this becomes a must own for any Wii U owner with an interest in the genre.
Let’s start by dissecting that gameplay, which is in the style of a 2D strategy game. It is relatively straightforward – it starts with a unit that can go out and collect gold and mana from a house just outside your main base. Players can use this money to buy new collecting units to increase the rate of gold and mana coming in. Occasionally larger numbers of gold and mana fall from the skies onto the battlefield, and by toggling them and pressing Y, one of those collecting units will venture out and bring back the larger set of gold/mana.
You can also spend this money on fighting units, who will go out and automatically attack anything they come across. There are a variety of different types of units, all with different abilities. In addition, players can use spells to help out their men. Using mana (which acts very similar to the gold; it will refill automatically and you can get some from the battlefield) there are a variety of spells, some of which are used to attack or momentarily incapacitate enemies. This makes it easier for your fighters to advance. But watch out, because on the other side of the screen, your enemies are doing exactly the same.
Your goal is to take out your enemy’s main base on the other side of the screen, building up units and taking out enemy outposts, walls, and portals along the way, replacing them with your own. It all comes together for some incredibly fast-paced, yet still easy to keep track of and control, gameplay. You build up your units in a smart manor, keeping an eye on their progress and helping with spells when necessary, while making sure you’re getting all the gold and mana that falls to the field, and looking out for enemy units and the like. It is an excellent mix of strategy, resource management, and action – and it is simply a blast.
The campaign consists of about twenty five levels. It is a bit different than other modes, as they give you only specific abilities that you are allowed to use at a time. It’s great for introducing you to specific mechanics and allowing you to master them, as well as, when restricting you in certain ways, making for some interesting challenges. Indeed, most of the campaign mode is not a straight battle between you and your enemy (though there is some of that) as it sometimes has you instead outrunning a sandstorm, capturing more sheep than your opponents, or the like.
Now, sometimes the game is extremely challenging, and considering the levels can take a very long time if you let them get out of control and you and your enemy end up in a stalemate of sorts, it can get rather frustrating. With the addition of an easy mode, though – which makes enemies easier and units cheaper at the cost of objectives and medals – it allows everyone to get through the game the way they want to. That said, there were some levels that just plain annoyed me no matter what, though these were few and far between.
Over the course of the campaign you will learn many new abilities and spells, and get new types of units. Once you unlock these options they can be used outside of the campaign in Skirmish and 2-player mode. Skirmish mode sets you loose against an enemy of your choosing with the rules of your choosing. It’s extremely fun, as it lets you set your own experiences for your skill level. 2-player mode (one player on the Gamepad, one on the TV) is just like Skirmish mode, only with two players. This is a great experience as well, unsurprisingly, and it’s a fantastic option to have.
Unfortunately, there is no online mode, so those who do not know people who enjoy these types of games around will not be able to play multiplayer. Since the game is twenty dollars, I had hoped that it might have an online mode, and the lack of one is very disappointing. Still – this is an indie title, and online is one of the only real missing attributes the game has, so it is generally excusable. Online just would have put the game over the top.
There is a story to the campaign mode, but plot is not a huge focus; it tracks a mysterious lamp that demons, vikings, and Persians alike all want, and some of them team up, and none of it really makes much sense. Not that it matters; rather, the story is more a mechanism to deliver fun dialogue and humorous moments. Indeed, this is a funny game, at worst simply adding a considerable amount of charm, and at best offering legitimately laugh out loud moments.
The Gamepad shows the exact same thing that is on the television at almost all times, making off-TV play a breeze. There is also the opportunity to play with touchscreen controls instead of physical buttons, and these happen to work extremely well, though I found myself preferring to stick with physical controls.
Visually, the game is exceptional. The art style lends to some stunning backgrounds and beautiful environments for the battles to play out on. It is the animation and character design that really puts it over the top, though. Every character (and non-sentient object) is bristling with personality, and the animation alone brings everything to life in an incredibly endearing way.
Perfectly complimenting the graphics is the sound. First are the sound effects and the like; the presenter of the game is a viking, and he gets the full voice acting treatment, which like everything else in the game is very charming and humorous. Everyone else’s voices are done in a vaguely Banjo-Kazooie-esque mumbling, which is as fun and hilarious as it ever was. Second is the music, which once again is excellent. There are exciting, epic, and all around gorgeous tracks throughout.
Now, with an indie game costing a full twenty dollars like this one, doubtless many wonder about the length of the title. Fortunately, if you enjoy the gameplay, the game more than makes up for its comparatively hefty pricetag. The campaign will last quite a while, and every level has bonus objectives – one miscellaneous, the other for if the player can finish the level in a certain timeframe. These will add a considerable amount of time for those interested. Beyond that, the Skirmish and 2 player modes should add a lot more content as well for those who really want to dig in and master the game’s mechanics or play with friends. There is definitely enough content to this game to make up for the twenty dollar tag, when the level of polish and length combine.
Swords and Soldier II is a fantastic experience. It is filled with terrific gameplay, beautiful visuals, great music and sound, and laugh out loud moments. The lack of online is disappointing, and there are a few frustrating levels, but all things considered this is a must have for any Wii U owner with an interest in quality experiences – indie or otherwise. It is not a game everyone will love, but if you have even a passing interest in the genre, you owe it to yourself to give this game a second look.