Are you like me? Are we best friends? Did you grow up in the 90s (or earlier, or later, no discrimination here) playing great strategy games? For me, it was Age of Empires II (of course). I’ve been actively looking for a real-time strategy game for handhelds (like the Vita, PSP, DS and Switch) for a long time. Not many hit the mark, I must say. I’m happy to report, though, that “Space War Arena” is a fantastic outing on the genre.
First, however, let’s talk about what’s not so great: I don’t know if you know (why would you know?), but I’m a professional video games localizer. My job is to make sure that the games I get hired to localize are not only translated correctly, but that they also make sense within the culture of the target demographic. “Space War Arena” is a game with somewhat minimal story, but also somewhat poor localization. You are part of a regenerating ship, and must command your troops yada yada, really not that great of a story. But, it is not helped by poor translation and localization. I know there’s limited budgets for games like this, but I also know there are affordable localization studios that will help you achieve a better quality of localization within the same price bracket. Shop around, guys.
I’m also not a fan of the music, which eventually just turns into a repeating drone type of a thing. It’s not bad, not even obtrusive. Just repetitive and uneventful. Again, I’m guessing the limited budget had something to do with it, but I wish the music was dynamic (and it changed according to what was happening in the battlefield).
Thankfully, everything else about “Space War Arena” is pretty darn great.
The combat focuses on assembling a “fleet” before going into battle (basically, choosing which ships you’ll be -randomly- assigned during the battle), and then using the best weapons to defeat the enemy ships. This is a single-screen RTS, which I haven’t really seen before, at least not in modern games. It’s a very refreshing take on the genre, as it simplifies the whole thing, streamlining combat and making for a much more bite-sized experience that lends itself really well to handheld gaming. During battle, you’ll have 4 units available to deploy at any given time; if you’ve got enough plasma (basically a timer) you can deploy them. Different units consume different amounts of plasma, and they take different times to regenerate. The next unit available is seen at the bottom of the screen.
Another thing that lends itself well to handheld gaming is the fact that the game looks great in handheld mode. A few days ago I published my review of “The Caligula Effect: Overdose” and lamented the fact that it looked awful on the Switch, and even worse in handheld mode. “Space War Arena” looks and runs magnificently on Nintendo’s hybrid, and it gives me the fuzzies to write out sentences like that, particularly about smaller games.
There’s a huge amount of variety in terms of type of ships (basically types of troops), from tank-ey ships to quick-n-fragile bombers, to snipers, to turrets… there’s really a whole lot to think about when deploying your fleet, and the pre-battle briefing will be a good opportunity to make note of your upcoming opponent and recruit your troops accordingly. The enemy has the same type of ships at their disposal, and the AI is rather clever when using them, too. There’s a fair challenge to be had here, if only slightly tarnished by the fact that each playthrough is different, therefore the same scenario can be either very difficult to win, or go as well as you’d expect. It removes a little bit of the strategy effectiveness from it, but it’s also refreshing and it’ll keep you on your toes.
Overall, I think “Space War Arena” is a great RTS title, that’s perfectly matched for bite-sized sessions, and one that I’ll continue to return to thanks to the variety of content and unit type it offers. It’s not a grand-scale, hours-long affair, but rather a chunky, single, screen, frantic type of experience that will definitely satiate your thirst for RTS action on the Switch. I’m a fan! You should definitely check this game out.