While consoles are usually passed by for strategy titles (the number of releases compared to those on the PC must be incalculable by this point), the DS has a chance to make them work. Age of Empires is one of the first to give the genre a real shot thanks to the touch screen, though the compromises may be too much for those familiar with franchise’s roots.
If the idea of taking your favorite real-time strategy game and making it turn-based is too much to bear, don’t bother. Whether for hardware limitations, control concerns, or ease of play, the developers have chosen to take the series and swap out its typical pacing to calm things down for handheld play. It works on varying levels, though definitely not in multi-player where each person must wait an agonizingly long time for their turn on bigger battlefields (and no Wi-Fi play is available).
In single-player however, it is an acceptable compromise. Everything that has made the series a legend for strategy gamers is here. The mechanics of building a town, setting up troops, and researching are here. The difference is you’ll need to wait for all of this to occur. The touch screen adds an easy way to manage troop placements, though d-pad/button controls work as well.
Strategy is, importantly, the title’s strongest asset. The top screen displays pertinent information on the selected item (is also features the brief battles when initiated), including advantages and disadvantages. If you’re familiar with the series and its basic mechanics, you’ll have the upper hand here. If not, there’s a sharp learning curve in the first mission set even though it acts as a training tool. Pay attention to every word.
The problem with controlling the five time-periods stem from the quarter viewpoint. It’s not a major problem early, but when stages become crowded with massive armies, it’s the game’s most obvious fault. Not only does it become brutally difficult to see what type of troop you’re picking, making out enemies or commanding them to attack something is aggravating. You’ll tap the screen multiple times to make one move, and even then it may not be the one you wanted. You can’t see the cursor buried underneath the sharply animated sprites either, so don’t plan on the d-pad to guide you either.
That extends the already deep battles even further. Thankfully, you can save when it’s your turn, and those hour-long battles feel shorter and manageable. It’s definitely fit for a portable, even if length seems like an issue. It’s best to play in short sessions regardless, given the annoyance of the looping soundtrack. By the end of a stage, you’ll be wishing Nintendo’s DS multimedia devices would make it out sooner.
While not the first choice for some people, the tweaks to the system in Age of Empires works for it, not against it. Non-jaded fans will be happy with the change of pace (so much so that it feels like an entirely new game), and new players can prepare themselves with an inviting system that offers them the time to think out each move. Aside from the control problems and lacking multi-player due to the turn-based switch, Empires works fine on the DS.
Age of Emipres is a rated E10 (Everyone 10+) by the ESRB for violence.