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Platform

DS

 

Genre

Strategy

 

Publisher

Majesco Games

 

Developer

Backbone

 

ESRB

E +10 (Everyone)

 

Released

February 14, 2006

 

 

- Incredibly in-depth strategic gameplay

- Great translation from real-time to turn-based

- Tons and tons of playtime

 

 

- Very slow paced

- Can get quite difficult

 

 

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Age of Empires: Age of Kings

Score: 8.3 / 10

 

Real time strategy games have never caught on in the console world, primarily because the controller just can’t match the keyboard/mouse setup of the home computer. And so, the non-PC gaming crowd has been missing out on Microsoft’s Age of Empire series, one of the best on the market. But with the advent of the Nintendo DS, Majesco has taken the series, miniaturized it, and brought it into an entirely different market. In the process, they’ve taken out the real time elements and replaced with it turn-based gameplay, making it similar to Fire Emblem or Advance Wars. The result is one of the deepest strategy games in the non-PC gaming market, either console or portable.

 

age of empires age of kings          age of empires age of kings

 

Age of Empires: Age of Kings lets you choose between five different campaigns - Joan of Arc and the French, Minamoto Yoshitsume and the Japanese, Genghis Khan and the Mongols, Saladin and the Muslims, and Richard the Lionhearted and the British. Each consist of five or six scenarios, for a total of 27 stages. Each map 

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begins with a quick introduction detailing the historical significance of each skirmish, and while they’re not 100% accurate, they help put history in context. If you’re curious, there’s a whole library of factual data regarding each of the heroes and their civilizations. This is the sort of game that should be mandatory in high school history class, if mostly because it takes history and makes it more than just memorizing names and dates.

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After being briefed, you’re tossed into the game. While there are a handful of missions that give you a set number of units and a mission to accomplish, most of the stages involve raising an army from the ground up to conquer all of your enemies. At first, you just need to make some peasants, build some mills and mines to harvest food and gold, then build some barracks and stables. From there, you can create scores of units, including swordsmen, archers, cavalrymen, archer cavalrymen, cavalrymen who ride camels, pikemen, crossbowmen, skirmishers (who lob pointed sticks), Vikings, various classes of mercenaries, monks to heal friends and convert foes, battering rams to ravage towns, cannons and more. Each mission has a hero unit, who is particularly strong and has some special powers, like granting temporary strength boosts or healing surrounding allies. Additionally, you’re allowed to research one skill per turn, which can upgrade skills for various units, increase income or grant a variety of other bonuses. There are tons of options and abilities to play around with, and while it may seem overwhelming at first, the interface gently guides you through each step in the tutorial and explains pretty much every important element of strategy.

 

The move from real time to turn based structure works surprisingly well, and the flow feels like your typical Japanese strategy RPG, so most gamers familiar with this type of game will feel right at home. When units get into combat, you see a quick cinema of animated soldiers attacking each other, with numbers that pop up showing casualties. Certain types of units work better against others, and terrain plays a big role in coming out victorious.

 

age of empires age of kings          age of empires age of kings

 

The major problem is that the game tends to move slow. REALLY slow. The quick missions take about twenty minutes. The average stage lasts at least an hour. Get up to the later levels and you’re talking multi-hour epics. While one can expect a strategy game to require a certain amount of patience, there are certain aspects that seem to drag on, especially when trying to conquer and take over towns. Additionally, sitting and watching all of the computer controlled enemies and/or allies take their turns can take a long time, although you can turn off the animations to make things run quicker. There is multiplayer support, but each player needs their own cart. Given the nature of these kinds of games, and the size of the some battles, it can get even more boring waiting for your friends to take their turn, so expect games to drag on even more than the single player mode.

 

It’s a good thing you can save at any time (without having to quit the game either), although you’re only granted one mid-game save slot. The other major problem is how difficult the game quickly grows. The Joan of Arc’s tutorial mission is relatively gentle, but once you hit the second Japanese campaign - labeled “easy” - it gets quite difficult as you finish up the levels. If you attempt Richard the Lionheart’s campaign, dubbed “very hard”, expect to get thrashed quite readily. And putting several hours into a map only to come out empty can be a pretty frustrating experience. There have also been many reports around gaming forums of bugs and game crashes, although I never personally experienced them during my play.                       

 

The visuals aren’t anything spectacular, but they get the job done, even if the computer-animated soldiers look a bit cheesy. While the entire game can be controlled with the stylus, it can be a little difficult picking out units due to the isometric viewpoint, plus it can be quite difficult to make out units when they’re clustered together. The touch screen controls are convenient, but ultimately it’s easier to use the control pad. All of the music is of outstanding quality, although there’s just a scant few songs, so they can get pretty repetitive as each campaign goes on. Each unit speaks and answers commands in their respective language with little voice clips, which adds to the authenticity.

 

Other than the potential bugs, the only major issue with Age of Empires: Age of Kings is it’s ability to overwhelm, both in its scope and its demands on your time. But if you have the patience, and most important, the mind for strategic thinking, this makes practically every other strategy game on the market feels like child's play.

 

- Kurt Kalata

(April 18, 2006)

 

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