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id Software brings the acclaimed mobile phone game to the Nintendo DS...
- Occasionally rises to an entertaining level.
- Fairly unique offering on the DS.
- Struggling for a third!
- Archaic control setup.
- Simplistic gameplay.
- Mobile overtones.
It seems as though id supremo and all-round gaming legend, John Carmack, is going through something of a mid-life crisis. Whilst we can appreciate his obsession on sending rockets into space (who wouldn't?), trying to understand his recent obsession with mobile games is something considerably tougher.
A sequel of sorts to id's first foray into the mobile scene with the 2005 release of Doom RPG, Orcs & Elves follows a similar setup bringing the studio's customary first-person-perspective with a fantasy background that's jam-packed full of drunken dwarves, pompous dark elves, and a dragon with a superiority complex - what more could you ask for?
Although id (in conjunction with Fountainhead Entertainment) actually succeeded where so many others have failed and managed to deliver a mobile phone game experience that provided a sliver of appeal to non casual gamers, the decision to convert the game to the Nintendo DS raises many questions and highlights the continued gulf between 'proper' games and their mobile imitators.
Taking control of a young half-elf equipped with a trusty blade and a talkative wand, Orcs & Elves blends real-time action with a quasi turn-based structure. There's a considerable range of weapons, spells, and other items throughout the game but it's hard to look past the fact that much of Orcs & Elves feels like a mobile game loosely adapted to suit the Nintendo DS. Particularly the general control setup feels as though it's designed around the severely limited restrictions of a four-directional keypad. With each action or movement effectively serving as a turn, Orcs & Elves initially leaves you unimpressed with an experience that appears extremely dated and feels decidedly archaic. Despite implementing touch screen control alongside traditional d-pad and buttons, Orcs & Elves is unlikely to impress during the first few minutes of play, it does it's best to put you off.
Stamping the id mark across Orcs & Elves, combat does at least manage to achieve a frantic tempo and intensity, chucking creature after creature in your path in a manner that's more akin to id's older stuff than the likes of Doom 3 and Quake IV. Generally the combat requires slight tactics and little skill, but above all else the ability to consume vast amounts of ability-buffing potions to survive the waves of creatures that block the path (literally) to a fantastical goal that will ultimately save the kingdom and may or may not involve a ring! Occasionally the pacing of opponents and tactical use of potions comes together to create a balance that begins to resemble something mildly stimulating, but it's not enough to look past a setup that amounts to little more than pressing one button repeatedly. The basic strategy to master revolves around knowing when to skip a turn to avoid moving into a space that could leave you open to attack, or to allow a creature to move adjacent to you and attacking them on the next turn. It's pretty simple stuff that isn't particularly challenging or engrossing, nevertheless it's the numbingly simplistic control setup that kills any chance of immersion.
Where Orcs & Elves succeeds is the mind-boggling puzzles that it likes to throw at you. From block puzzles to dealing with passable plumes of air, Orcs & Elves' rare moments of genuine satisfaction stem from the few occasions it leaves you scratching your head and pondering the way forwards. Of course, it wouldn't be an id game without coloured doors to pass, although the solution rarely requires more than a few tankards of ale with the relevant dwarf.
Given that much of Orcs & Elves design feels like the mobile game from whence it came, it should come as little surprise to realise the game isn't the greatest looking title you'll find on the Nintendo DS. Severely restricted animations and a somewhat limited 3D engine are the order of the day. These inadequacies are carried across into the irritating sound effects that run throughout the entire game; it's certainly one that will save the DS battery because you'll never want to move that sound slider past the off setting.
Undoubtedly the bottom line comes down to the fact that Orcs & Elves served as a curious and mildly entertaining package that you could get on your mobile phone for a few quid, but it's RRP stands at £29.99 on the Nintendo DS. Why somebody believes DS owners would be happy to fork out for this (and a few extras) when the format is already home to numerous classics baffles me.
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