GDC – WiiWare Hands On – Swords & Soldiers

One of the great things about WiiWare is it’s accessibility for smaller development teams.  Take Ronimo games – a small dutch developer with a humble staff of ten, Ronimo is bringing real time strategy action to WiiWare.  What makes them special? A large part of Ronimo’s development staff is responsible for de blob, having created the original PC game as a student project, eventually selling the rights to THQ.  Beyond that, their upcoming WiiWare Game, Swords & Soldiers, shows a lot of promise – taking real time strategy in new directions – left and right.  That is to say, Swords & Soldiers is a RTS sidescroller.

The idea is a little foreign at first – typical RTS titles feature a birds-eye view of the action, allowing players to dictate the movement of units in relation to north, south, east, and west – exploring a sprawling map in search of their objective.  Swords & Soldiers maintains the gameplay element of the RTS style, but changes the perspective.  The classic elements are all there – a home base, or castle – various units to collect resources and wage war – and different building and unit types that can be upgraded as your campaign moves forward, but a few fundamentals are different.

For one thing, you don’t tell your units where to go – they automatically start performing their function as soon as they are made.  Soldiers will fight, workers will work – the player effects the game by managing units, casting offensive and defensive spells, laying traps, and using other special moves to turn the tide of battle.  I met up with Olver and Jasper of Ronimo Games GDC, and they told me how they thought it was odd that the Wii was missing a good RTS title.

We always thought, when the Wii came out, we thought there would be a real time strategy game immediately afterwards”“ because it’s one of the genres that’s not doing that well on consoles, but the Wii has the pointer mechanic.  ”¦so we tried it out, but a little simpler, a little more casual ”“ as a side scroller.

It seems a little odd and a little slow at first, but after the tutorial missions the game feels as hectic and fast paced as any RTS classic.  The play feild also has multiple levels of depth, allowing the player to direct soldiers to take the high or low road to avoid battle or ambush the enemy.  True to RTS form, Swords & Soldiers also features multiple factions to play as, each with unique units, spells, and abilities.  So far Ronimo Games has only revealed two of the three factions – Vikings, and Aztecs!

You’ve got the Vikings, who are these bearded strong guys, and then you have the Aztecs, who are more sinister, they have poison, more magic… …and can sacrifice units to restore mana!  …We tried to make each faction unique, and no two units are exactly the same ”“ they have slightly different stats.

Each faction is based off of pop-culture folklore and loose characterizations of their real world counterparts.  During a multi-player match with Oliver, I learned the Aztecs could mesmerize enemy units, convert them to fight to your side – sacrifice the newly converted unit to gain Mana, and then create a new skeleton warrior from the remains.

Swords & Soldiers is nearing completion, although the guys at Ronimo told me they couldn’t commit to a solid release date yet.  When the game comes out, Jasper told me the main campaign should run about 6-10 hours “depending on your skill,” he said. “There are ten missions for each faction and challenge modes you unlock as you proceed through the campaign”¦ ”¦we also have 25 custom achievements”¦ it should have a lot of replay value”  Oliver followed up, confident a player could easily invest 20 hours playing only single player, and many more in local multiplayer battles with friends.

Although they couldn’t tell me for sure, Oliver and Jasper said they wanted to keep the price below 1000 Wii points, but warned it might go as high as 1500 – at this point, it’s too early to tell.  In any case, my time with Swords & Soldier was a lot of fun, and I can easily see this shaping up to be one of the better WiiWare releases of the year.  Since Nintendo makes the call on all WiiWare release dates, the boys at Ronimo were unable to tell me when it would be available, but said the game would be completed in April.  With any luck, we’ll see Swords & Soldiers on the Wii Shop Channel in the Summer or Fall.