- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 14, 2011

Apple’s magical tablet becomes the battleground for an award-winning, side-scrolling 2-D adventure previously seen on popular gaming consoles.

Pitting historical warriors on a quest to conquer the world, the cartoony chaos of Swords and Soldiers (Chillingo, reviewed for iPad2, rated 4+ for players 4 and older, $4.99) reminded me of a comic strip from famed Mad magazine artist Sergio Aragones come to life.

A solo player commands either Vikings in search of the perfect barbecue sauce, Aztecs defending the Holy Pepper or China’s best stopping greedy emperors in three epic campaigns.

The game requires finger tapping to build up resource providers (such as large Viking women carrying gold), create warriors and unleash special weapons, all dependent upon spending stores of gold and magical mana.

It’s all accomplished by touching icons at the top of the screen and on submenus as the real-time war rages on. Each icon delivers the goods and then acts as a counter as the resource  such as adding a specific soldier to the field  must rebuild before a player can use it again.

More than two dozen missions include all-out battles, collecting a specific amount of resources (for example, 1,000 pieces of gold), completing a scenario such as trapping five jaguar warriors, and holding out against enemies before reinforcements arrive.

Players also can directly affect a battle that moves across the screen by deploying special attacks named for the powers of the gods. These might include a limited snowstorm to freeze enemies, a fire-breathing dragon to scorch opposition, lightning bolts to take out specific foes and a volley of flaming arrows that rain down from the heavens.

Propagating the armies is a selection of characters such as rocketeers, stone samurai, ninja monkeys, zombies, Indians with poison darts and Oriental wizards. A selection of silly sound bites from the soldiers mixes plenty of humor with the slaughter.

The best-animated moment opens every mission; it will remind old pop-culture fans of the spinning bat logo in the 1960s “Batman” television show.

Also, an included skirmish mode allows a player to set up his own scenarios for battle (down to map sizes), and a trio of minigames extends the warring fun.

However, let’s break out the collective boo-hoos for the lack of online multiplayer action. As a substitute, developers do offer some face-to-face competition using the iPad as a more traditional game board. The tablet rests flat on a table, and a pair of challengers face each other across a shared split screen in a configurable versus mode.

I’m still trying to figure out how to succeed here as a player relies more on how quickly he can tap his icons and get his troops in the face of his opponent’s territory than on developing a plan.

Swords and Soldiers still provides a deep and cheap fix for real-time strategists with iPads.

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