Reviewed: March 12, 2006
Reviewed by: Roger Cox


Backbone Entertainment

Released: February 14, 2006
Genre: Strategy
Players: 1-4
ESRB: Everyone


Supported Features:

  • Wireless Multicard Play (1-4)

  • Age of Empires is a huge video game series that started way back in 1997 when Ensemble Studios released it. At that time it was published by Microsoft, and since then the series has grown to include Age of Empires II (The Age of Kings and The Conquerors), and III. Age of Empires The Age of Kings for the DS is based on the original PC version, but has been extensively overhauled to suit the Nintendo DS well.

    The Age of Kings Features:

    • Command one of five different civilizations: the Britons, Franks, Mongols, Saracens, and Japanese.
    • Take control of special ĎHeroí units like Richard the Lionheart, Minamoto Yoshitsune, Joan of Arc, Genghis Khan, and Saladin among others who command special Ďheroí powers affecting the entire battlefield.
    • Command over 65 different types of units from bowmen and monks to hand cannoneers, mercenaries and samurai.
    • Turn-based combat, new to the Age of Empires franchise, keeps the battle moving at the player-preferred pace.
    • Players construct & upgrade buildings like town centers, mines, universities and Ďwondersí to help units learn new skills and create resources for their civilizations.
    • Players research over 50 different technologies like chemistry, ballistics, siege craft and spying among others to take their civilization into the next age.
    • Get help from the new Combat Advisor who provides advice on certain campaign strategies and an indication of how the battle will go.
    • Multiplayer scenarios allowing up to 4 players to battle each other wirelessly.
    • Gain Empire Points to unlock maps & units and improve Emperor Rank.
    • Original music and sound effects from top-selling PC version.
    • Based on Ensemble Studioís PC mega-hit, Age of Empires ģ II: The Age of Kings

    The game opens up by going to the menu and allowing you to select which mode to play in. The main single player mode is the campaign where youíll command five different civilizations, build armies and take them on other various campaigns. This is a turn-based strategy game and youíll have to move from the Dark Ages through the Middle Ages while always staying true to your main objective: world domination.

    This game has five different playable factions meaning five different single player campaigns, each spanning five to six missions apiece. Once you have chosen to play one you can begin going through the story, battling, and recruiting mercenaries. The story takes place primarily in-between missions while occasionally taking place during. For the most part I found the stories to be interesting, educational, and more engrossing than I had expected. I didnít think they could write a good story without a ton of text, but itís surprisingly limited and easy to read.

    The actual gameplay is done by taking turns and during those turns you can do many things. You can choose to engage in battle, conduct research, move your units, and build structures. Funding your army and construction projects isnít free, but at the same time it doesnít require a lot of unnecessary micromanagement (thank you). All thatís required to bring in the bucks is to have enough villagers mining gold or harvesting wheat fields. Additionally, youíll receive money after each turn. Bringing in all this money will also allow you to upgrade (train) your units.

    When youíre done, your turn is over and you must end the day so the computer and/or your allies can take their turn. Iíll tell you right now, the secret to winning is making your army diverse. What I mean is that you should recruit various units to your army because each one is effective against a different enemy unit. This way you're covered no matter what the circumstances. Doing this along with furthering your civilizationís history will help you claim victory.

    The game has an interesting look. The top screen gives you information about units and structures while the bottom screen displays your units on the grid map (isometric view point). During battles the top screen shows the action taking place in a cool 2D/3D look. The units are heavily detailed during battles while they are simple looking on the bottom screen. This makes sense since given the large amounts of units that must be displayed.

    The battle animations are done amazingly well. Units move differently than one another and attack different people. The battles look like actual battles, are really exciting, and look as good as possible. Unfortunately the battles get old and begin sucking up unnecessary time when youíd just like to turn them off. You canít because you must watch each one to determine their outcome. If you donít watch youíll never know the result of that battle unless your unit has been eliminated.

    One problem the lower (map) screen has is that units and buildings that are close together look like a mess when you have a lot of them. Itís good that you can distinguish them by simply taping them because the top screen will display the information.

    Music is well done in this game. My guess is that they took some of it from the old PC game and adapted it amazingly well to the DS. The background music fit each faction perfectly. They do get repetitive, but the music is so good that you often forget itís there.

    The battle sound effects are great as well. You canít beat the variety of clanging swords and grunts. They all complement the great fighting scenes.

    Thereís a ton of value here when you consider the main mission will take around 22 hours to complete. After completing each campaign youíll earn points which you can spend to unlock maps and units for the multiplayer aspects of the game. Skirmish matches are also here and can be played with four people, computers, or a combination of both.

    Thereís even a multiplayer mode where you can choose to battle or explore. The game supports wireless multi-card play so youíll have to hope a friend gets it. If not you could always buy them a copy for their birthday or special occasion. Itís worth it because the multiplayer aspect of this game is huge and youíll find yourself enjoying it more than the single player campaigns in some respects.

    Good news for those of you who donít have a friend will to shell out the cash. Thereís a mode where you can simply pass the DS around and take turns. Most games donít offer this feature when the game lacks single card multiplayer, but thankfully those kind developers at Digital Eclipse were nice enough to include it.

    This pass-and play mode works surprisingly well because of the games genre (turn-based strategy). Youíre already going to take turns in the game, the only additional step is to pass the system off to your friend or bitter rival (maybe both!).

    Good news is that the AI here is pretty good for those of you who play skirmishes by yourselves. They get progressively smarter depending on which difficulty setting you select.

    Age of Empires The Age of Kings is a completely overhauled and redesigned reiteration of the classic PC game. Itís a turn based strategy game that is similar to Nintendoís Advanced Wars. This is different because the original was a real-time strategy game. Even though the game went through this major transition in the type of strategy, it still was able to capture the feel of the original.

    All in all this is one heck of a good game. Youíll be hard pressed to find a better one on the DS that is as deep and engrossing (other than Advanced Wars). If youíre a strategy fan whoís looking for your next portable fix, then this educational history lesson is waiting to be played.