The ravages of portable war have been largely limited to cartoon battles between fictional forces until now, but Panzer Tactics DS lets you twist your noodle on 30 missions pulled from World War II.
Panzer Tactics DS isn't for tactical newbies, with a ramping difficulty that makes each of three 10-mission turn-based campaigns progressively more complex without becoming too brutally frustrating. Tutorials teach the basics, but there's no substitute for getting a few losses under your belt for the experience when there are so many factors at work at any given moment. Each of the 150 units performs differently depending on the terrain, any nearby officers, whether its target is surrounded, how much experience it has, artillery support, etc., resulting in a deep and tense strategy experience where seemingly minor early moves come back to help or haunt you much later. Core units follow you from mission to mission, and promoting them through the ranks grants them improved performance and special attacks for as long as a single member of the squad survives.
The plain presentation of the maps, units, and statistics might lack the panache of the Advance Wars series, and the limp battle sequences won't elevate your pulse, but recruiting, maneuvering, attacking, and defending across air, sea, and land provides the mind with one hell of a portable time sink if you can tolerate the dry, encyclopedic approach. Even fumbling with the somewhat counterintuitive interface becomes a breeze after a few missions.
The multiplayer experience, on the other hand, is a mess. The single DS "hot seat" mode's lack of an action summary means constantly looking over your opponent's shoulder to see what battles take place, and Wi-Fi play suffers from a dreadfully shallow pool of available players both online and off, while clunky matchmaking fails to provide even a simple list of available games.
Strategy gaming is a lot like chess: playing against the computer is fine for learning piece movements and basic tactics, but it takes an unpredictable human factor to make it truly worthwhile. Panzer Tactics DS is a challenging and entertaining, if plodding, single-player experience despite its plain aesthetic trappings, but the lack of a serviceable multiplayer component keeps it out of the officer class altogether.
Jan 18, 2008