Orcs and Elves (Nintendo DS) Review

By Karn Spydar Lee Bianco 21.11.2007 7

Review for Orcs and Elves on Nintendo DS

Orcs & Elves was originally released as a mobile title in mid-2006 following John Carmack's realisation that most other mobile games are, in fact, total tripe. The game soon received commercial success and critical acclaim, encouraging Fountainhead Entertainment to begin developing a DS port, featuring an all-new graphics engine as well as a series of new levels and items. We took a look at the new and improved version in order to determine whether or not improved technology equates to an improved experience.

According to Katherine Anna Kang, the game's producer and CEO of Fountainhead Entertainment, Orcs & Elves takes place in an expansive universe originally created by her husband, John Carmack of Id Software, during his teenage years as a Dungeon Master. Whilst gamers are only treated to a small portion of this world in the game itself, the imminent release of a mobile sequel suggests that we haven't seen the last of it. Whilst the backdrop is a perfect environment for the gameplay we will soon be discussing, it certainly doesn't offer much in the way of innovative storytelling. There are Orcs, elves, dwarves, magic wands, potions and swords, just as you would expect, but that's part of the beauty of the game.

Orcs & Elves is a throwback to the games, both electronic and otherwise, that many consider to be long gone. The plot places players in the shoes of a young elf whose sole aim is retake an immense Dwarven city (read: mountain) by fighting off hordes of Orcs and other evil creatures that have claimed control of it after slaughtering the original inhabitants. However, unlike modern fantasy role-playing games, you won't find any character development here; there are no skills to upgrade, no jobs to choose from, nor is there much customisation of any kind. Progression is tied to a simple level-based system, offering additional strength/health, etc. points for each level gained.

Dialogue and character interaction is handled by a talking wand in your possession, rather than you yourself. Whilst there are some witty one-liners scattered about, most of the game's dialogue is pretty standard 'Ye Olde English', full of clichés.

Screenshot for Orcs and Elves on Nintendo DS

In keeping with the somewhat archaic nature of the game, gameplay will feel quite limited to some, but therein lays its beauty! Despite being based in a fully-3D world, movement is confined to a grid-based system that works in turns. Moving, using an item or attacking an enemy will take one turn, but thanks to the game's solid frame rate and fast-paced nature, it feels closer to real-time than turn-based. This slick combination allows for an element of strategy to be introduced, which would otherwise be absent in a truly-vintage hack 'n slash outing. Enemies are also restricted to one action per turn (for the most part) which allows you to plan your next few moves before battles as well as during. Being able to sift through your inventory without fear of external mutilation is extremely useful, and is implemented in a way that doesn't break the flow of combat unless you need it to.

Each of the game's various opponents have their own strengths and weakness. Fire-based creatures, for example, obviously won't be affected by fire-based spells or items, but other enemies in the vicinity might, forcing you to plan accordingly. Perfectionists will be glad to hear that save functionality is available at all times, allowing players to test out different strategies before committing themselves to a certain course of action. Conversely, those that simply wish to consume a bunch of power-boosting potions before rushing in and flailing their sword about wildly are totally free to do so. Although they might find themselves confronted by the Game Over screen on more than one occasion. It's this freedom that helps propel Orcs & Elves beyond a simple nod to the 'good old days' and into the realm of a game that is truly worth your time and money.

Unfortunately, the conversion from a mobile phone game as well as the general retro quality of the game does have its disadvantages. Namely, the graphics probably aren't going to be winning any awards. Although environments have been pushed into the third dimension, enemies are still sprite-driven and subsequently look rather flat, even though many are quite detailed. On the one hand these visuals help transport you back to the classic RPGs of the late eighties and early nineties, but on the other hand they simply remind you that, at the end of the day, this is first and foremost a mobile game that has been ported to the DS. Similarly, despite the strategic options detailed previously, prolonged play sessions can become repetitive. Thankfully this is largely countered by the ability to save anywhere, anytime, as well as the level-based structure of the game.

Whilst the DS's unique hardware hasn't been used extensively, it has been utilized to help streamline the UI. Item and weapon selection is handled on the bottom screen, which is cleverly designed to look like the lower half of your elf counterpart. Tap the sword on your belt and you'll be taken to the weapon selection screen, tap the bottle and you'll be taken to the potion screen, etc. Whilst this part is nice and intuitive (particularly if you're using a button/touch screen control combo) the actual selection of items from the sub-screens can become slightly irksome as you progress through the game and acquire additional items. This is due to the fact that there is no way to rearrange your possessions, forcing you to scroll through an increasingly extensive list every time you want to find something. These few niggles, particularly the antiquated nature of the game, present the biggest accessibility barriers, but if you can look past them (or allow them to enhance the experience, rather than detract from it) Orcs & Elves can be a heck of a lot of fun.

Screenshot for Orcs and Elves on Nintendo DS

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

Despite its limitations and clear mobile roots, Orcs & Elves provides a nostalgic experience that includes enough new ideas to keep things fresh and interesting. Combat is simple, unadulterated fun, which improves upon traditional dungeon crawlers by offering additional strategic possibilities in the form of turn-based gameplay. If you can look past the game's shortcomings you'll find a truly enjoyable dungeon-crawling romp, the likes of which just doesn't come around all that often anymore.






Turn Based RPG



C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

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


A talking wand...sounds interesting! Smilie

What a really well-written review, Karn - excellent stuff. Thorough and to the point. I was in two minds about this game and wanted to see what you had to say about it...and now you've definitely sold me on it. Cheers Karn, I look forward to grabbing this one at some point soon! :Smilie

Adam Riley [ Operations Director :: Senior Editor :: Cubed3 Limited ]
Watch Adam on the BBC! | K-Pop Korner FB Page | Voice123 Profile | AdamC3 on Twitter

Why, thank you! :Smilie

I was a tad unsure about giving it such a high score, purely because it is something of an acquired taste. But, if you’ve dug into the meat of the review and not been put off, then I think you’re safe.

The wand does talk rather a lot, actually - quite a chatty little fellow so he is!

Cubed3 Staff [ Retro Editor :: Previews Editor ]

So does mine...but we won't go into that... :read:

Adam Riley [ Operations Director :: Senior Editor :: Cubed3 Limited ]
Watch Adam on the BBC! | K-Pop Korner FB Page | Voice123 Profile | AdamC3 on Twitter

I couldn't put up with the way you move around. the only reason dungeon master controlled like that was because it didn't have a 3D engine. It just feels wrong here.

It's going to be shit and you jolly well know it.

Old Man / Font of all useless knowledge

Nice review, Karn and pretty spot on. I agree with GrumbleMaster that the movement seems wrong. However, in truth (and I'm currently playing the game), it works really well. I'm, no fan of first persom games but I really this one.

Old Man / Font of all useless knowledge

Thanks, good to see you floating around C3, too. :Smilie

I initially had a problem with only being able to move one place at a time, and not being able to hold down the forward button for continuous movement, but I eventually got used to tapping the Up Arrow on the touch screen for fairly speedy movement.

As for the four-direction limitation, I think it also works well. Plus, it reminded me of

Cubed3 Staff [ Retro Editor :: Previews Editor ]

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