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JadeDragon's game reviews and playing tips: Nintendo DS games

Age of Empires: Age of Kings

Review posted February 2007 by Edwin Kee

Publisher: Majesco
Developer: Backbone
Release Date: October, 2006
ESRB Rating: "E10+" for Everyone over age 10
Genre: RPG
Price: $34.99

Traditionally Real-Time Strategy (RTS) games have not faired well for consoles, be they portable ones or not. But with the introduction of Nintendo's DS platform that comes with a touch screen, gamers have enjoyed a paradigm shift in this area. Granted, you won't be able to have the flexibility of a PC setup, but at the very least the stylus helps greatly when commanding your armies. Age of Empires: The Age of Kings (AoE: AoK) shares the same title with one of the more popular RTS titles on the PC platform, but it takes on a turn-based format rather than the tried-and-true method of clicking frantically while building up your army.

The setting in The Age of Kings brings us back to the medieval ages, where the terms dirty bombs and nuclear warfare had yet to be invented. Back then, people lived and died by the sword ala Braveheart. Hardcore gamers might be disappointed to know that there are only five factions to choose from as the PC version affords you the luxury of many more options. Nevertheless, for a portable game, having the Franks, the Japanese, the Mongols, the Saracens, and the Britons are already more than a handful as you will find out later below.

Gameplay

Newbies can always opt for the Tutorial Mode in the first place, where you control Joan of Arc and her army, while seasoned campaigners will probably skip that and dive straight into the thick of action. Once you have chosen the difficulty level that you're comfortable with (there are four in total), it is time to delve into the game. Each scenario has primary and secondary objectives, where it is essential to complete the former while the latter is reserved for purists who cannot but help themselves to maintaining a 100% record. The normal RTS routine applies here - you must first establish a base,
gather enough resources, and build up a strong enough force before sending them to their deaths - I mean, to crush your enemies. Of course, along the way there will be different kinds of challenges in the missions, but a huge chunk of it involves the road well traveled.

The storyline for each faction revolves around the historical (sprinkled liberally with some legendary myth, of course) figures of Joan of Arc, Yoshitsune Minamoto, Genghis Khan, Saladin, and Richard the Lionheart. Each hero enjoys not only enhanced stats, but their presence on the battlefield alone could help turn the tide in your favor with the variety of special powers at their disposal. Joan of Arc, for example, is more of a cleric-type who is more than capable of healing your army anywhere on the map.

Each campaign could stretch for over 20 hours, which means you will probably enjoy more than a hundred hours of gameplay. And to think that you haven't delved into multiplayer mode yet! Once you're done with the campaign aspect of AoE: AoK, you can always go up against the computer in skirmish matches. Although the computer AI provides a decent challenge, there is nothing better than going head-to-head against other humans. The game supports local wireless play, although each player is required to have his or her own cart. There is also the old school hot seat style to choose from, but handing over your DS to three different people in a single turn can get rather disconcerting.
One thing to note - once you wrap up a campaign mission, you will be awarded some points. These points can then be used to unlock new units as well as a slew of maps. This is definitely a carrot that the developer has dangled to tempt seasoned veterans to attempt for a 100% record.

As with any self-respecting RTS, there are tons of units to choose from that will determine whether you emerge the victor or not. The Age of Kings is no different, but it follows a paper-scissors-stone principal, where infantry units with anti-cavalry abilities mow down knights in their shining armor, archers and other ranged units are extremely effective against infantry, and knights basically mow down both ranged units and non-anti-cavalry infantry on the plains. With this in mind, it would be suicidal to just stock up on one kind of unit - you have to learn to mix-and-match your units and place them in the correct formation.

The tech tree in AoE: AoK is an interesting one. You have to learn to strike a balance between pumping your resources into research and getting more basic units. Needless to say, the lower the tech tree, the less units you have at your disposal to swarm over the enemy, but a high tech tree could mean precious little resources to work with when building a highly-advanced army.

Controls

Age of Empires: The Age of Kings does not really depend too much on the touch screen input, and it works much like other turn-based games such as Advanced Wars, where using the D-pad is sufficient. Of course, the stylus comes in handy when you want to pan across a map quickly but other than that, it isn't really needed. I have no qualms with the controls on the whole, as the cursor goes where I want it to, although there are times when I have accidentally attacked the wrong unit, sending my entire group of archers to their deaths, trampled by Persian War Elephants, as I missed seeing where the cursor was.

Graphics

Overall, the graphics in AoE: AoK are top notch. Each unit is detailed, and you can tell their difference. The upper screen does a great job in providing unit, building, and terrain details. Each battle will take place on the upper screen, but after a while it gets rather repetitive. Seasoned campaigners would most probably turn the battle scenes off in order to speed up the conquest of their enemy.

The only gripe I have with the graphics is the fact that the presence of too many units on the screen makes it difficult to pick out where your units and buildings are. This is where the "R" shoulder button comes in handy, as it switches to the next unit that has not yet moved, but when it comes to picking out enemies, you might accidentally miss one in the process which could prove deadly in the next round. Overall, if you are careful and have a meticulous disposition, this should not pose a problem, but it is a potential stumbling block that I feel one should look out for.

 

Screen shots:

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Sound

Sound effects and the soundtrack inside AoE: AoK are solid overall. Despite the rousing background music getting repetitive after a while, they were well composed to fit into the general scheme of things. Different factions come with their very own musical score, while the digitized sound effects of warfare were pretty well done. You can hear clashing swords, death screams, and charges as if you were in the midst of the battle itself.

Conclusion

Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings on the DS has certainly been an enjoyable ride. Great visuals and sound will keep you going through the campaigns. Multiplayer mode is added bonus. If you are a fan of the Age of Empires series, this game should be on your Nintendo DS game list to get. Plenty of replay value as you go for the perfect score.

Hints and Tips

Below are the codes required to unlock a bunch of maps that will definitely add more replay value. Enter the Empire Map mode and purchase them with your accumulated Empire Points under "Bonus Items".

Agincourt

250 empire points

Archipelago Large

200 empire points

Asia Major

300 empire points

Bridges Large

100 empire points

Castles

150 empire points

France

100 empire points

Hannibal's Crossing

250 empire points

Hastings

250 empire points

Khyber Pass

250 empire points

King of the Mountain

300 empire points

Outremer

150 empire points

Skirmish- Desert

250 empire points

Skirmish- Plains

250 empire points

Swamplands

150 empire points

Valley

100 empire points

 

Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):

Graphics

The sprites are extremely well done and you will definitely spend the first campaign or two admiring the battle scenes as they are worth watching. The utilization of both screens were maximized to good effect, but occasionally the overcrowding on the battlefield becomes unmanageable as those with a poorer eye for detail might end their turn without making full use of every single unit. Colors are bright and vibrant, with each faction having enough differences to tell them apart easily. The special powers of heroes could have been done in a grander manner though.

Sound

There is nothing to complain about the realistic sound effects as well as inspiring soundtrack which is pleasant to listen to and yet does not stick in your head after a while. There is just something primal about the sound of clashing swords and trumpeting elephants that just raise the hair on your back, and AoE: AoK does both to great effect.

Fun Meter

Those who are looking for a turn-based RTS on the DS platform will definitely enjoy this title as it features extremely deep gameplay, while the multiplayer aspect offers virtually unlimited replay-ability. You will spend hours completing a single campaign, while perfectionists will have a ball of a time to find the most optimum moves one can make within a particular level. The addition of secondary objectives also adds to the overall strategic aspect of the game.

Addictivity

If you are not careful, you could end up playing into the wee hours of the morning as you tell yourself mentally “Just one more turn!”. A choice of four different difficulty levels will probably bring you back for more once the game is completed. Of course, the multiplayer sessions add huge number of hours to the gameplay if you have a bunch of friends who are also AoE fans.

Total Score= 4.125 Dragons, 82.5%



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