Before we begin this review, we've been requested by the powers that be at Gameloft to communicate a brief statement: Naval Battle Mission Commander is not Battleships. Oh no, it most definitely is not.
Sure, it might feature battleships, destroyers and aircraft carriers. And yes, these boats may be placed on a fixed 10x10 grid at which opposing players take pot shots. Heck, if you look at it from a certain angle, it isn't inconceivable that you'd get the two confused in the dark.
However any such resemblance is purely incidental, because, as you're no doubt aware, Battleships is an MB Games property, as is the phrase 'You've Sunk My Battleship', which should under no circumstances be uttered by gamers during play.
Now that we've got that out of the way, we at Pocket Gamer would like to add a message of our own: Naval Battle Mission Commander is not the Battleships game we knew and loved in our childhood. It's far better.
Whilst Gameloft may well have been inspired by the classic game (or indeed its pen and paper predecessor), the developers have improved upon the formula in every conceivable way to create a genuine mobile masterpiece.
For starters, the traditional turn-based 10x10 grid game is now just one of four entirely different ways to play. There's also Salvo (where you get a shot for every boat that's still afloat), Advanced (in which you have a host of special attacks from different boats), and the core mode, a meaty 18 mission Campaign.
The latter is so sublimely constructed that it brings to mind the likes of Advance Wars (we'll wait for a Gameloft clarification on that statement). Each mission is fresh, featuring new elements such as special attacks, a shake-up in the fleet on offer, or a different setting. And this more than just a cosmetic change, with grid sizes varying and geographic features such as islands and icebergs coming into play.
Throughout though, the core challenge is to sink your opponent's fleet before they sink yours. As we hinted above, there are multiple elements in your armoury you can call on in order to achieve this, with each commander having a special weapons power-up bar that charges steadily whenever they make an attack or take a hit ("Okay, that isn't entirely dissimilar to Advance Wars..." – reluctant Gameloft lawyers).
Once the bar is full, you can access a menu offering a variety of attacks, from spotter planes and magnetic mines to napalm and depth charges. Use of these different options obviously adds an extra level of strategic subtlety to the game, as does the fact that you can only access special weapons relating to ships that are in your fleet and afloat at the time.
Bonus power-ups (such as intercepted 'intel' on fleet positions) and secondary mission objectives enrich the mix further, whilst the presentation does a commendable job of icing the cake.
Granted, the visuals aren't exactly going to stretch the 3D chip inside top-end handsets. But both the ships and the captains are undeniably neatly rendered, in a cute Advance W– ("Don't say it!" – Gameloft lawyers) sort of way. And it's the incidental details that really bring the whole to life – from the shorelines and seagulls that flock around the grids, to the explosive hit or splashy miss that accompanies each attack.
Snappy remarks exchanged between captains and the way their portraits change from wry smirks to grimaces as the tide of battle turns are further neat touches, whilst both music and sound effects are shipshape, with meaty explosions and a stirring tune that accompanies victory.
The controls are every bit as simple as you'd hope, too, although there's the opportunity to customise them and a tutorial included just in case.
There's yet more good news on the value front. Although the campaign is completable within three or four hours of concerted play, the opportunity to improve on your statistics (of which you're offered a detailed breakdown, post-mission) and secure more of the 30 collectable medals makes replaying Naval Battle a credible option. And even if you don't want to go back, there's plenty of scope for one-off skirmishes in the other modes, all of which can be played alone or against a similarly warmongering chum, either sharing one handset or head-to-head via Bluetooth.
It all means that regardless of its origins and inspirations, Naval Battle: Mission Commander is more than deserving of a medal in its own right.