Age of Empires 2

If you're unfamiliar with the Age of Empires franchise on PC, it's a series of real time strategy war games with a historical bent - start out as a tribe with a village, collect resources, research and advance your technology, and win supremacy over the land. You can play as particular groups from the past, such as the French or the Romans, and this alters the appearance and some of the technology and skills available to you during the course of the game.

What does the DS do with the franchise? The first thing you're going to notice is that Age of Empires is not real time anymore - it's now turn based. Surprisingly, however, the research, resource management and village building is still intact, albeit simplified - eg research only takes a single turn and building a mine or mill automatically collects resources for you. If anything, I found this simplification to make the game more entertaining - it always used to shit me to have to constantly monitor what villagers were doing, renew farms, etc etc.

The control interface? It's pretty solid. The top screen shows a map of the area, or details on units or terrain, basically context sensitive information. Also, during combat between units, it can show animations of the battle and its results, although you can disable this if need be. The touch screen shows a window on the play area, and you can control units or buildings by tapping them with the stylus and directing accordingly, or by using the D-pad. Occasionally I found it was finicky when trying to tap enemy units to attack, but overall, it works well.

Presentation is excellent, with easily navigatable menus, WiFi or "hotseat" (hand the DS to the other player) multiplay, suitably themed and not too annoying music, and excellent graphics and sound. It even has the native language responses when you tap on or select a unit - the initial training scenario follows the story of Joan of Arc, so units respond in French. Did I mention the game even has the historical information about countries, units and technology ala the original PC versions?

I can happily recommend Age of Empires to both fans of the PC franchise looking for a quick fix, and strategy game fans in general.

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