Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Hellbent Games
Release Date: June 10, 2009
You'd expect the DS to be a haven for real-time strategy games, but that doesn't seem to be the case. We have titles like the Advance Wars series, Age of Empires and Civilization Revolution, but new IPs are few and far between. Imagine my surprise when I got my hands on LEGO Battles for the DS, and that's exactly what it turned out to be.
LEGO Battles incorporates the use of a few popular LEGO character styles, including fantasy, pirates and sci-fi. There are six different scenarios to complete, with three acts for each scenario, yielding a pretty lengthy single-player experience. You'll start off with the fantasy setting, but finishing the first act will automatically unlock the "good" pirate and sci-fi scenarios, along with the "bad" alternate story for the fantasy realm. The other two bad alternates are unlocked as you finish the first acts for their corresponding realms, so it doesn't take a lot of effort to get into every available scenario.
The gameplay of LEGO Battles works pretty well with the stylus, and my only real issues come from the sketchy pathfinding of individual units. When you begin the game, you'll get the basics about building units, gathering resources and creating structures, all staples of any RTS game. With the fantasy realm setup, you're given a couple of builders, a few basic warriors and your king unit, which equates to a hero unit that you'd find in a title like Warcraft 3. The king comes equipped with a few special abilities and is generally harder to kill and stronger than your typical units. The builders are used to do exactly that — build new structures and harvest resources — while your warrior units are your basic fighters.
As the game progresses, you'll open up more and more structure types, including towers that can auto-attack nearby enemy units, farms to expand your overall unit amount, allowing you to amass a fairly large army of LEGO guys, and mines and other resource-producing structures that give you more blocks to build more units and buildings. Once you have a barracks in play, you can create more friendly units, and there are about three variations for each scenario you play in.
Certain scenarios will yield unique unit types too, like the pirate scenario, which places a large focus on water exploration; it allows you to create transport ships to move units from island to island, or attack vessels to take on enemy patrols you find in the water. It doesn't really change the basics of combat that much, but you're simply targeting an enemy and having the game auto-attack until one side is wiped out, so all you're really getting is a location change more than anything.
Most of the individual acts consist of a number of battles or objectives, and they're actually pretty varied from what I was expecting. Instead of simply creating a large army and wiping out enemy forces, there are usually a number of goals to achieve, like one that has you defending villagers against shark attacks, or another that requires you to find and secure a scroll using your king unit, and then making your way across the map with the scroll intact before the enemy can destroy it. There are many play type variations, and while I'm sure a lot of RTS veterans have played these scenarios time and again across numerous games, I applaud Hellbent Games for being somewhat inventive with the gameplay and not making the title overly simple, as I had initially suspected.
The main game isn't super long, but it'll take you some time to finish up all six scenarios. The story line is very basic, which is disappointing since a lot of the charm from the LEGO titles comes from the story cut scenes, but without a particular license attached, it's hard to get a lot of humor from seeing characters that aren't instantly recognizable. There are little CGI scenes to begin and cap off the acts for each scenario, but don't expect to be wowed by the story in any way.
There are a variety of modes to keep you busy past the default story setup, including multiplayer mode, which is unfortunately only through local play and multiple cartridges, but I imagine would be fun with a few friends involved. There are also a series of unlockables to check out, and each map that you play on has a number of items and LEGO pieces to find that can unlock some neat stuff. Finally, there are three single-player modes that you can check out separate from the story: Elimination, Gold Rush and Hunt the Hero. These provide a pretty fun alternative to the goal-specific gameplay found in the story mode, and they're certainly worth taking for a spin.
My only real big problem with LEGO Battles is that the pathfinding of your army is generally poor, especially if you need them to traverse a big chunk of the map. You can easily highlight a large group with the stylus by dragging a box over everyone, but they tend to get bottlenecked easily in tight passages, and you'll often find units that are still highlighted but have stopped moving for no reason other than because they've run into something. It's annoying, but you'll need to babysit your army quite a bit, giving your units small steps and goals to achieve instead of being able to plop down a marker far away and hoping that they'll make it there intact. It's a little annoying, but beyond that, I can't find much to complain about in LEGO Battles. It's certainly worth checking out, and I had a fair amount of fun with it.
More articles about LEGO Battles