Age of Empires: The Age of Kings (Nintendo DS) Review

By Barry Lewis 20.11.2006

When Nintendo showcased a touch screen portable, Real Time Strategy fans instantly recognised the potential. Nintendo brought us the superb Advance Wars and speculation around several games came and went, with very little materialising. Thankfully Microsoft gave Ensemble Studios the green light to port Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings to DS, with Majesco taking publisher duties, and for the first time in the series they transformed it into turn-based strategy gameplay.

Based around historical events in the Dark through to Middle ages you take control of five legendary civilisations and heroes thereof; the Britons with Richard the Lionheart, Franks and Joan of Ark, Genghis Khan for the Mongols, Saladin's Saracens and Minamoto Yoshitsume of ancient Japan. For each of these periods and civilisations you build up an Empire, advance through the ages and crush all who oppose you en route, naturally.

Graphically, being based on a nine-year-old PC game Age of Empires was never going to reach out of the screen, grab your testes and slap you with a wet herring. Like many other DS titles it runs a 2D sprite based engine on the touch screen, for viewing and controlling the field of play. While browsing the playing field, the upper screen displays map and enemy details, and before the final attack command a battle advisor pops up to show character details, field conditions and the chances for victory. Confirm an attack and the action moves to the top screen, where a 3D display runs the battle. Like Advance Wars each unit represents a contingent of men, though in this instance each contingent is assigned 100 health distributed in tens between the ten individual units. This can make for amusing detail when charging a full contingent of Paladin towards a lone Villager down to 1 health point.

Screenshot for Age of Empires: The Age of Kings on Nintendo DS

Aurally things are much the same, solid if not spectacular. If you're a fan of StarGate: SG1 - or "normal" as we call it - you'll know what to expect. Generic historical townsfolk scores are interlaced perfectly throughout the game, setting the mood and tone for the various periods and personas you encounter. Our only gripe would be the little voice work from your troops that isn't quite as clear as possible on the DS, but with these games infamous for annoying little chirps that is no huge problem. All in all both graphics and sound are of a high enough quality, now the meat of the game...

The single player campaign is actually split into five mini campaigns, with each of the five heroes sporting between five and six missions of varying difficulty. Fans of this genre will be right at home, with a standard array of foot soldiers, archers, horsemen and siege equipment, all sporting their various attributes from strike range to movement range, vision points and special abilities. Villagers make an appearance and while being little more than lambs to the slaughter against anything with a weapon they are integral to building an empire. These units can build Town Centres and from these centres you can expand your town to build Barracks for infantry, Stables for cavalry and a whole collection of advancing technologies and buildings. In addition to growing your empire Villagers can also set forth into the field of play, building Farms and Gold Mines at certain points, indicated by a collection of wheat or gold on a specific square.

Screenshot for Age of Empires: The Age of Kings on Nintendo DS

In the beginning you play through the Dark Age, a primitive time where your unit count and building quota is very small. Most important to the Dark Age is establishing a Town Centre and building up your resources income through farming and mining. With established resources your Town Centre can research a technology every day, at a food and gold cost, to further your Empire and move you into the Feudal Age. While the first age revolves around establishing and surviving the second is about expansion and building thanks to increased quotas for allowed units / buildings, a more comprehensive range of units and more technologies to research. This is where you can build a decent army and consider forays into enemy territory with the aim of destruction and theft of resources. Developing your civilisation beyond the Feudal Age and into the Castle Age, again through the research of technology, allows you to build Castles and access most of the unit types and buildings. The final age, Imperial Age, sees the introduction of Wonders, attractions to your civilisation that boost your daily food and gold count. At this stage you are at the peak of your civilisation, able to build a vast army of elite soldiers to execute the final defeat of your enemy.

It all works incredibly well, rush out too early for victory and your empire will never take off, leading to ultimate defeat. Sit on your empire too long and the enemy will capture more resources and become too strong for defeat, or certainly much tougher. Hero Powers add another dimension to gameplay, with each specific civilisations Hero having unique powers such as healing or attacking properties. This comes at a risk as naturally the Hero must survive or it's game over, so use them wisely!

Screenshot for Age of Empires: The Age of Kings on Nintendo DS

Other features from the turn-based genre make an appearance, such as fog of war and black map, in addition to levels without the need to build an empire, just use the supplied units to crush your enemy / escort a VIP. All of this is controlled through simple touch-screen manipulation, tap a unit to select him, drag to where you want him to be, likewise tap a building and select the task to be completed or unit to be built. We found a very good dual hand control in which you manipulate the map with the stylus and do the fine-tuning through the d-pad, and even if you fancy normal control the d-pad and four buttons work relatively well, if a touch awkward.

Besides the rather splendid campaign mode there is Empire Map, featuring a few dozen pre-set maps where you can set the conditions. There's a Bonus Items section from which you can purchase, using Empire Points earned during the campaigns, various units and maps for the empire map feature. Multiplayer is a welcome feature, and the Library mode is like a GCSE history lesson, with the Hero's, civilisations and research data all collected and accessible should you feel the need. The only real faults we can find in Age of Empires are the rather restricted resources and relative constriction to unit types and advancements. For a handheld realisation of the popular PC genre it is a damn fine effort and we could only encourage RTS fans looking for a portable title to get this one. It's in the shops now!

Screenshot for Age of Empires: The Age of Kings on Nintendo DS

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

A very good translation of the AoE series, and a thoroughly good game. With the non-Nintendo RTS shining on the DS we encourage you to grab this game, it's the perfect companion for a long journey, to pass the time before Wii and even just to relax for a few hours after a tough day.


Digital Eclipse







C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10 (4 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   


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