Support Andy, click to buy via us...
Age of Empires is a long running real time strategy series on PC's that combined detailed graphics and environments with specific time periods and eras. The DS version takes the game in a turn based direction whilst maintaining the key elements that made the franchise so popular.
Turn based strategy games are the video gaming equivalent of chess, risk and other board games. The player is presented with a tile based environment and a number of pieces which they can position and move. These games usually revolve around some military conflict.
When the player directs an encounter to take place the comparative stats of vehicles, characters and current landscape are used to calculate the winner. Forest usually make you harder to hit, whilst tanks do more damage than infantry.
The turn based nature of the Age of Empires on DS means the player can take it at their own pace. Whereas the real time PC games would continue regardless of the player's input, here things wait for them to make their moves and end their turn. Whilst this isn't new for video games (turn based games are a well established genre in their own right) it is new for the series. Although this suites the form factor (read: physical size) of the DS, Viva Pinata: Pocket Paradise DS is testament to the workability of real time strategy games on the DS.
The portability of this particular Age of Empires experience makes it a new proposition. You can now play on the way to work or school. The game has been scaled accordingly so that the technology tree for each civilisation (the way you can develop them in the game) has been paired down considerably. The maps themselves are also slightly smaller and tile based. This may have made the game feel cramped and restricted but there is enough flexibility to ensure the classic Age of Empires 'open' play.
Even with these admissions, the smaller size of the DS screen and the fixed perspective mean that units often overlap each other. When you have a lot going on in a particular level things can get relatively hard to make out on screen.
Gamers will be attracted to the highly regarded Age of Empires franchise coming to the DS. The game delivers an experience that is genuinely in line with the more fully fledged PC games. There is something of a thrill to be able to take your desktop tactics and apply them, in miniature style, on the way to work.
Age of Empires games on the DS don't last as long as the PC version, but even so open ended battles can still see-saw and take a good hour to complete. The campaign battles are more directed and can usually be completed in a shorter session, an average player would expect to complete this mode in around fifteen hours. This still leaves a considerable amount of other game modes to play, not least the multiplayer.
Young gamers will struggle with the level of planning and picking out the intricate graphical details - both of which are required to play the game properly.
Intermediate players are likely to appreciate the fact that they can play this Age of Empires game at their own pace. The stylus controls also make the game easy to pick up and give a good sense of control over proceedings.
Expert players may find the experience a little dumbed down for the younger DS audience. There is plenty for them to do here, but the earlier campaign levels can be feel like a bit of a grind. Provided they stick with it though, the later levels should challenge most players. Those with more of a gaming history will appreciate the return to the less common turn based approach to strategy games - one that still stands up pretty well.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: