I was pretty skeptical when I first heard about this game; after all, how could an Age of Empires game play well on something as small as the DS? After spending far more hours playing the game than is good for me, I think I can safely say that my doubts have been almost completely assuaged. Age of Empires DS is a fun strategy game that, bar a couple of flaws, is a must-have for gamers looking for an experience that is a little deeper than something like Nintendogs.
The biggest change to the PC games is the fact that the game is turn-based. While many people might be upset about this, it actually works really well. The game still retains a very strong AoE ‘feel’, only now you can take as long as you like to plan your moves. Units can move a certain distance from their current position each turn, and can perform a single action (such as attacking). Buildings take one turn to build, as do tech advancements. It all runs surprisingly smoothly, and it won’t be long before you find yourself totally engrossed in epic battles, attempting to charge down the enemy’s archers with your horsemen while your monk sidles in and attempts to convert troops to your cause.
All of this is presented as an isometric battlefield, which looks nice and colourful, but really makes unit selection a pain when lots of your troops are clumped together – you learn to get pretty accurate with the stylus. The top screen displays unit or terrain information wherever appropriate, and can also show a mini-map. The two screens are generally used to great effect; aside from the problem mentioned above, using the stylus to manipulate your forces feels very intuitive.
This is lucky, because there’s plenty of content to sink your teeth into. There are five single-player campaigns, each of which will take a good few hours to complete. The missions are held together by written narratives and pictures detailing the exploits of whomever you’ve taken command of; and while it’s hardly historically accurate, you still get a nice overview of what happened with famous figures like Joan of Arc or Richard the Lionheart.
Beyond the campaigns, you can also play a range of skirmishes, both single-player and multiplayer. The latter can be great fun, even when you only have one DS, as hotseat play is supported. Of course, problems arise when the battles get huge – waiting for peoples’ turns to finish can get pretty boring. Still, if you have time to kill and a friend hanging around, there are certainly worse ways to pass the time.
Unfortunately, the AI takes almost as long – which starts to really slow things down on the larger maps when there are multiple opponents. That, coupled with the difficulty of selecting the unit you want to select, tarnishes Age of Empires’ otherwise fun gameplay. Still, it’s definitely worth your while if you’re at all into strategy games; it manages to capture both the charm of the PC series, as well as that ‘just one more turn’ feeling found in only the better turn-based strategy games. If you’re looking for a DS game that you can get lost in for hours on end, look no further than Age of Empires: Age of Kings.