Efforts to bring the PC's brand of Civilization style strategy games to the Nintendo DS haven't always yielded positive results. Age of Empires was decent, but they made it turn-based. Sim City had features cut. So did The Settlers, and it was a buggy mess on top of that. For once, wouldn't it be nice if one of those wonderfully engrossing empire sims survived the transition from the PC to DS without losing anything in translation? If you answered "yes" to that highly rhetorical question, then you're most definitely going to want to pick up Anno 1701: Dawn of Discovery.
Anno 1701 feels like a mash-up of Sim City, Civilization, and Age of Empires. It begins simply enough. Your queen gives you a ship, some men, some raw materials, and a mandate to expand her empire. After a short time at sea, you spot a foreign landmass, drop anchor, and open a small trading post. Soon, your men demand houses. Next, they start hooking up with the locals and begin to demand comforts such as bars, churches, and schools. So, you work the land and build those things, as well as setting up farms to provide the food and lumber for your rapidly growing community. Eventually, what began as a tiny little enclave soon becomes a vibrant nation where you're churning out trained laborers to build advanced farms and ships, colonizing new islands, and investing heavily in armies to protect your empire.
You lay down the roads and buildings, you set the taxes that will give you the money to invest in upgrades, and you send out the army when pirates and natives attack. As your empire grows, more options become available. The basic lumberjack gives way to iron workers and ship builders. Farms diversify into dairy, tea plantations, and other specialized trades. Those uppity aristocrats eventually start demanding theaters and public baths, which require specific materials and training to build. It may seem complicated, but new options are added at a manageable pace and the comprehensive in-game help system means that answers to your questions are never more than a tap away.
Credit to the developers for tailoring this game to the DS's strengths. Placing structures and laying down roads is a simple matter of tapping and dragging with the stylus. Scrolling around and zooming the camera higher or lower is handled in the same fashion. Information detailing your empire's needs is displayed on the upper screen, while the main view on lower screen generally remains uncluttered, except for a panel of icons that lead to the various menu choices.
The graphics have a comical look to them, which may bother people that prefer a more realistic style, but the overwhelming variety of animated details helps make up for the game's lack of realism. When you aren't busy laying down roads and houses, you can sit back and watch all the tiny little people visiting the shops, tending their fields, and clashing on the outskirts.
A campaign mode provides 15 missions that should keep you occupied for a solid 20 hours, and also give you the skills necessary to build your own settlement from scratch. Once you've learned the ins and outs, you'll dive into the continuous mode, where you set the starting size of the island, tweak the resources, and keep playing until you decide to replace your saved empire with a new one. Lastly, there's a multiplayer mode, which enables four people (each with their own system and cartridge) to link-up and scuffle over a single patch of land. Yeah, good luck finding four people locally to play a niche game like this. For that reason, we really wish they had implemented some sort of online play.
Empire building tends to be a solitary endeavor anyway, so the restrictive multiplayer options really don't hurt Anno 1701 all that much. Basically, anybody looking to build and maintain an imperialistic empire on their Nintendo DS should get this game.
Mar 17, 2008