I've been disappointed with Sim games on the DS lately. First we had Theme Park, which is a port of the 14 year-old SNES game with absolutely nothing new added in. Second, we had Sim City DS, which valiantly attempts to win the DS Sim category with it's classic game play, but stumbles at the finish line with it's awkward stylus controls, horrifically tacked-on mini games, and inability to have multiple game saves (or being able to change your advisor once the game starts).
Now we have Anno 1701: Dawn of Discovery. Luckily, this one doesn't fall into the traps the previously mentioned games did.
This is the first time I've played a game in the Anno series, and playing this one has certainly peaked my interest in the other three games.
Your first port of call (ahem, sorry about the pun) is to learn how to use the Stylus. They really needn't have bothered with the tutorial on this part, as Anno's control system has obviously been designed with the DS in mind. Everything in the game is controlled entirely by the stylus. The top screen shows information about your current resources, recent messages, and objectives, and you can drag the map around on the bottom screen to get to certain points, or even slide the map by "flinging" the map in your desired direction.
The interface is clutter free and dead simple to use. In less than five minutes you'll be able to hit a needle in a haystack on the map with the greatest of ease. It's a joy to behold, and moves so smoothly and elegantly it almost makes you want to cry with it's grace… okay maybe not cry, but it certainly feels a lot better than swearing in frustration when you're trying to build a road and the map shoots off randomly to some unknown location, costing you valuable money (I'm looking at you, Sim City DS).
Once that simple task is over, the game holds you gently by the hand like a loving parent, through it's more complex tasks, such as dealing with your citizens needs and wants, micro-managing stock, and general government-y stuff such as fiddling with tax rates and keeping neighboring governors happy by trading. The tutorial is really clever on this section, as it only really gives you an underlying guideline of what to do, and lets you run your settlement the way you see fit, commenting and giving suggestions on the way.
It's this kind of tutorial that I'd like to see in more games, to be honest. I hate it when you get a game, and you have to follow rigid, mundane, unnecessary instructions to the letter before you can move on. It's like being a cadet in the army and being barked at by superiors. I hate that crap. A game's supposed to be fun, and you're supposed to explore by yourself and find out how to get through situations in your own way. Anno 1701 does precisely that, by nurturing your curiosity instead of killing it.
Once the tutorial is over, you're on your own through the trials and tribulations of 18th century life in stormy water. Build your settlement up, watch your people and cities evolve, defend them from attackers, then venture forth into lands and seas unknown to meet interesting new civilisations… then obliterate them!
The story twists and turns almost as much as the water beneath your boats, and keeps you absolutely hooked until you complete the game, which will take a long time, believe me. This is not a game that you'll be able to blaze through in a weekend. Anno 1701 has over 15 missions, some of which take well over an hour to complete, which are segmented into five chapters. Luckily, you can save your game as many times as you wish, whenever you wish, so you don't have to worry about starting a new mission when your train's due in 10 minutes.
Once you have finally finished the campaign, there's more Anno enjoyment on the cartridge. There's also an endless game play mode which pits you up against three computer opponents, all vying for precious land and resources, and no time limits. If you wish for competition that's a little bit more human, you can partake in a four-player battle mode on pre-set maps.
While you can zoom, and flick, and fling the camera about with relative ease, for some reason you can't rotate it, meaning that as your screen gets busier with buildings and people, it's hard to see what's behind them, making split second decisions — especially when it comes to attacking or defending — cumbersome.
Also, sometimes the best form of dealing with citizen's complaints are to simply remove them. If there's a problematic area of your city where people aren't happy with crime or a natural disaster in their vicinity, it's usually quicker and cheaper to simply remove their house and place another in it's spot rather than to build fire departments or police stations, rendering a fairly large part of the stratagem of the game fruitless. Of course, you're only cheating yourself if you do this, but the temptation is always there to create happiness with the double tap of a stylus.
Despite these little problems, Anno 1701: Dawn of Discovery is the finest strategy / simulation game on the DS by far. The presentation and controls are the best implementations of touch controls I've seen so on the console, the sound is crisp and clear, and the game play is piled into this cartridge by the boatload.
If you're willing to get cerebral on the move with an interesting, intelligently designed, strategy / simulation game, then you can do a lot worse than pick up Anno 1071: Dawn of Discovery.
Anno 1701: Dawn of Discovery is released on August 24th in Europe, priced at £29.99. There is no current news of an American release date.
Anno 1701: Dawn of Discovery is deemed suitable for ages 7+ due to depictions of violence by PEGI.