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Age of Empires: The Age of Kings

Score: 90%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: Majesco
Developer: Backbone Entertainment
Media: Cartridge/1
Players: 1 - 4
Genre: Turn-Based Strategy

Graphics & Sound:

Age of Empires: The Age of Kings may share a name with the PC series, but the portable version has been completely redesigned to appeal to portable audiences as well as take advantage of the systemís capabilities. The translation isnít without problems, but the overall experience remains true to the series.

Presentation is generally strong, though it also proves to be one of the gameís few shortcomings. Maps are presented in an isometric view that is useable, though it can become cluttered when numerous units and buildings are in close to one another. Thankfully, the developers showed a little foresight in regards to this problem. Whenever a number of units are clustered together, a small menu pops up listing everything in that area, assuring that you will choose the right unit.

Battles take place in a style reminiscent of Advance Wars, though the units show a little more interaction with one another. Watching units clash in battle is actually pretty entertaining the first few times you see it, though later on you will likely want to skip them altogether. However, this isnít all that advisable since youíre given little feedback about how a battle went otherwise.

A majority of the gameís story is told through still images accompanied by text. These sequences are really well done and help to set the gameís mood. This is complemented by a fitting score as well as all of the appropriate battle sounds.


Gameplay:

The most obvious difference between this version of Age of Kings and the PC version is that rather than being real-time, the DS version is turn-based. This helps to give the game a feeling reminiscent of Fire Emblem and Advance Wars, two titles that handheld players should already be familiar with. Long-time players may scoff at the change, but it actually works extremely well.

Age of Kings is split up into five historic campaigns, each chronicling the exploits of leaders like Richard the Lionheart, Yohitsune and Joan of Arc. The scenarios arenít completely true to life, but they do tie into the real-life history. So, while you canít substitute a game of Age of Kings for studying for your World History test, it makes a good primer. Campaigns are well-planned and a lot of fun. Some goals mirror others, yet the variety of units and strategies give each its own unique feel.

Each scenario starts you off with a set of primary goals which must be accomplished before moving on. Gameplay takes place on an isometric map, with players moving units one at a time. You usually begin with a small leader, a small army and some villagers. Villagers can be sent out to various resource locations on the map and instructed to build farms and gold mines, both of which provide economic support for your growing army. These are then spent on building upgrades, as well as building new units.

A deep multiplayer mode rounds out the excellent single-player experience. WiFi multiplayer support is sadly missing, though players can hook up in multi-DS matches or ďHotseatĒ sessions with one DS. Multiplayer games are fun, but plan on them taking up huge chunks of time. Players take turns moving their armies, leaving the other player no other option than to sit and stare while the other player makes his move.


Difficulty:

Whether youíre new to the series or not, it is advisable to go through Joan of Arcís tutorial campaign first. Here youíll learn how everything works in small, easy-to-understand chunks. Youíre given the option of having certain aspects explained to you, or you can choose to try everything yourself.

Thereís no set order for the campaigns, though they do get harder as you go down the list. So, while it is certainly possible to skip around, it probably isnít the best of methods unless you feel really comfortable with the gameís mechanics. Scenarios also become harder as you progress through the campaign.


Game Mechanics:

Over 40 units are available in the Age of Empires: The Age of Kings, each with their own advantages and disadvantages in battle Ė adding a healthy dose of deep strategy. Battles usually play out in a paper-rock-scissor manner (Cavalry beats soldiers, but Pikeman beat Cavalry), though terrain effects come into play to add wrinkles to matches. Each civilization also has access to a leader unit (Joan of Arc, Richard the LionheartÖ.) who adds their own special abilities to battles each turn. These include abilities like healing as well as attribute modifications like reduced defense. When used efficiently, these can greatly turn the tide of a battle.

Age of Kings makes full use of the DSís touch functions. Controls are functional, though the execution does come with a few minor snags. For one, it is hard to quickly scroll through the map. This becomes more of an issue with larger maps than with smaller ones. Also, there were times where I had to press on a command two or three times before getting a response. Even with these small problems, the interface is still very easy to understand and does a great job of cramming all of the PC versionís keyboard commands into a few, useable menus.

If anything else, Age of Empires: The Age of Kings proves that strategy games have a bright future on the DS. If youíre a strategy nut that has worn out their copy of Advance Wars and are looking for that next great strategy game, Age of Empires is a must have.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

Sony PlayStation 2 The Godfather: The Game Windows American Civil War: Take Command: 2nd Manassas

 
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