Mobile phones featuring J2ME games and applications have been around for a while but, with a few exceptions, most of the games available have been... well, crap. Ancient Empires is one of the exceptions. If you're facing a long train journey or something similar in the near future and you're looking got something to occupy your mind (and thumbs) then read on; I may have the solution for you.

Vital Statistics

Name: Ancient Empires
Publisher: Macrospace Games
Released: 2004
Platforms: Most J2ME equipped mobile phones
Formats: Available as a WAP download
Original Price:£3.00 - £5.00

What's it all about?

Many games designers faced with the limited resorces of a mobile phone have looked to the past for inspiration. The games catalogues of 8-bit computers abound with games designed to squeeze every last drop of gameplay out of less impressive hardware. Ancient Empires is a good old traditional turn-based battle strategy along the lines of something like Rebelstar or Lords of Chaos. The game that it takes most of its inspiration from is probably Advance Wars on the GBA (thanks fondue).

The action takes place in a mythical past in the kingdom of Thorin. You, as King Galamar must fight evil (led by your brother Valadorn). That's it for storyline. No complicated plots needed here; you need to go and kick Valadorn's arse.

Gameplay

All gameplay takes place on a grid of squares which include a certain type of terrain and possibly a unit under your or your enemy's control. The game is playable as one or two-player. The one-player mode involves progressing through six levels; each one a new map with a new enemy you must defeat. The different battle units are introduced and explained as you progress and the whole thing has a nice shallow learning-curve. It starts simple but, as soon as you've mastered it, it begins to get quite tricky. The two-player gives you a selection of two maps on which you can play a basic battle. Each player starts with no units (apart from the king) and one thousand gold peices to begin buying.

Each unit can move once and attack once each turn (with one exception explained later). One of the units represents you and if he dies, you have lost the game. Some squares contain a village (represented as a house) which turn to your colour if occupied by one of your soldiers. Each occupied house brings in 60 gold each turn which can then be used to purchase new units for the battle. In later levels, batting for control of the villages becomes a very important part of the game.

Lastability

The game unfolds well as the story is told. New units are introduced and explained and each level gets progressively harder. Unfortunately, it never gets hard enough; I went through the entire game without dying once. There are enough levels for a few hours play, though -- even if you're never in much danger -- but all the levels have pretty much the same goal of killing the enemy king. The two player mode adds to the lasting appeal (if you can find anyone to play against). Maybe some better AI for the enemy units and some extra levels wou greatly improve the game; this should be addressed in the upcoming sequel.

Units

Soldier

Attack: 5
Defence: 1
Movement: 3
Purchase cost: 150
These are your basic units. They are the only units capable of occupying villages to create income.

Archer

Attack: 5
Defence: 1
Movement: 4
Purchase cost: 250
Archers are notable for their ability to attack units two squares away as well as those adjacent. Units attacked in this way do not return fire. I find archers to be the most usefull attack units

Lizard

Attack: 5
Defence: 2
Movement: 6
Purchase cost: 300
Lizards are quite mobile. They are particularly useful in water where they recieve a movement and defence bonus of two.

Wizard

Attack: 4
Defence: 1
Movement: 4
Purchase cost: 400
Wizards are weak in battle but have a very special ability: they can raise the dead. Stand a wizard next to ay tombstone (these appear wherever a unit has been killed for the next turn) and a skeleton unit, under your control, will appear.

Wisp

Attack: 3
Defence: 2
Movement: 4
Purchase cost: 500
Any friendly unit within two squares of a wisp recieve an attack bonus. Wisps are also particularly effective against skeletons. The ae weak, though, so try to avoid getting them involved in battles.

Spider

Attack: 6
Defence: 2
Movement: 5
Purchase cost: 600
These are the best all-round units. They move fast and are strong both in attack and defence. If you have anouth villages under your control to produce 600 gold each turn, then unleasing a steady flow of spiders creates an unstoppable force.

Golem

Attack: 6
Defence: 4
Movement: 4
Purchase cost: 600
The main use for a golem is in defence. Put one in a village or castle and it will require a great effort to remove it.

Catapult

Attack: 7
Defence: 2
Movement: 3
Purchase cost: 700
Catapults are used for their ranged attack. They can attack units up to 4 squares away; and it is a stong attack, so you can pick off many enemy units before they get to you. Catapults cannot attack adjacent units, however, so don't let anyone get too close. Catapults can either attack or move each turn, but not both.

Wyvern

Attack: 8
Defence: 3
Movement: 7
Purchase cost: 1000
These things basically kick arse. They're powerful and move like shit off a shovel. If you see one of these coming, well, run. Attack it from within castles with ranged-units like archers and catapults. Or, use another wyvern. It needs to be said, however, that fro the price of a thousand gold pieces, maybe four archers would be pretty good too...

King

Attack: 5
Defence: 3
Movement: 4
Purchase cost: N/A
If your king kicks the bucket, it's all over; so you don't want this unit to get involved unless it's absolutely necessary. That said, it's a relative stong unit which - if on protective terrain - can prove quite effective in a battle. Whilst your king is in a castle square he can purchase new units with all that lovely gold.

Skeleton

Attack: 5
Defence: 1
Movement: 4
Purchase cost: N/A
Skeletons cannot be purchased; they are created when a wizard raises a dead unit. They have no special abilities and are not particularly powerful but they're still better than nothing for very little cost. They, themselves, do not leave a gravestone, so you can't keep recycling them. Keep them away from wisps.

Sound good. Me want!

Hop over to Macrospace's website (http://www.macrospace.com) and buy it. In the UK it'll cost you a fiver. If you're on the three network, like me, you can get it from three's games section for a discount price of £3 - at that price it's well worth it. You can also play a demo on a java applet on the site.

Where from here

Macrospace are, as I node, working on Ancient Empires II - A sequel to this game. A demo is playable online and it looks pretty impressive. They've kept the same basic idea but extended it. There are more creatures (including dragons), a four-player mode (if you have that many friends), the graphics have been generally touched up and the animations made quicker. There is even the option to download extra maps for skirmish battles.

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