|System: DS, PC||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Sunflowers||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Ubisoft||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: March 4, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1, 2-4 (online)||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
There is an awful lot to juggle in this game. It's quite possible that you will struggle initially. My only suggestion is to stay with it, and you will get the hang of it. The game does provide a tutorial incorporated right into the Story Mode, but it is by no means exhaustive; this is a mixed blessing.
On the one hand, the first few levels aren't spent painfully tapping your way through screen after screen of text. On the other, you won't know how to tell if the soil is fertile enough to support spice cultivation. Unfortunately, these kinds of subtle details will have to be gleaned through trial and error. All the same, the nuances are what make the game so alluring. Besides, the developers have created a glossary known as the ANNOpedia which can be accessed at any time to answer the majority of your questions. Additionally, it is easy to sneak a peek at what the computer is doing in Continuous Play to act as a guide for your colonial exploits.
There are only a couple of complaints I have with the game. First, the use of military force is not so fun. The battle mechanic is decidedly paired down to make it easy for players, but if you're looking for RTS-style combat, then know that this is meager at best. Second, placing buildings in the right spot is often a chore. Buildings such as chapels, taverns, bath houses, schools, etc. have a sphere of influence that affects the attitudes and disposition of your citizens. There are only two levels of zoom, and both are inadequate for either seeing the space where you're placing the improvement or for identifying where the area of influence stops. Third, you will often run into production issues that simply can't be solved. Suggestions will be offered by the help menu, but even after implementing the solution, the problem will persist. This can be frustrating, especially when your people keep calling out for a specific good you simply can't provide.
There are three modes of play for you to tackle. The Story Mode will have you take on Queen Eliza's henchmen on the behalf of your monarch, Queen Marybeth. This mode is a must-play as it does a good job of teaching you the ins and outs of gameplay while providing you with a stern challenge. Continuous Play allows you to choose your character and your competition. Each A.I. challenger has a specific skill rating and set of attributes and weaknesses. This mode tests your skills and is ever-changing. Finally, there is a multiplayer component that allows you to take on your friends via a local Wi-Fi connection. Sadly, there is no online feature through the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, and you'll have to have an additional cartridge for every player that joins you.
The graphics are quite good for the DS. The colors are bright and pleasing. The objects, terrain, and characters are all admirably rendered. As we all know, highly detailed games are not the DS's strong suit, but Sunflowers, the game's developer, has done a remarkable job. I really liked the way workers sidle through the mud streets, bears forage in the wilds, and the look of the flaming ball of smoke from the smith's billows. I also really enjoyed the music which is cheerful, varied, and era-appropriate. The event prompts are also engaging and enjoyable. To top the entire technical package off, the touch screen controls are so silky smooth you'll fly around the menus and city screens. The only control problems I encountered were occasional stickiness and low-sensitivity when switching between buildings and over-sensitivity of taxation slide bars.
To sum it all up, this is an awesome game that will greatly enhance your DS gaming library. However, it is not a must-buy for everyone as it is made specifically for fans of the genre. As such, it is the perfect title for those that enjoy games such as Empire Earth, Civilization, Sim City, etc. I've had tons of fun with this game and will continue to play it for months to come. The game is a bit hard to come by, so if you see it on the store shelf I urge you to pick it up!
CCC Lead Contributor / News Director