At a time when both the DS and PSP are in danger of losing their hardcore mojo, it's significant when a major publisher like Ubisoft brings one of its profile game – in this case the PS3/X360/PC real-time strategy game Tom Clancy's EndWar – into portable mode.
Of course, the transition between console and handheld is always a process to be managed. Here, that's been handled by developer Funatics, which has decide to apply a certain twist into the game's RTS DNA by splicing in a mechanic from 1990s German strategy game Battle Isle.
The result is a turn-based strategy game with a difference. The movement and action phases of a turn have been split, with the result that when you decide your movements, your opponent is deciding their actions, and vice versa.
It sounds radical and without getting our hands on the game for a prolonged period, it's hard to tell exactly how it will play out. According to the creative director Lothar Schmitt, though, once you've played strategy this way, you'll never want to go back.
He points out the advantage of the scheme is that as well as forcing players to focus more on the tactical situations that can be created through the correct movement and positioning of units – for example, the game uses proximity to provide enhanced attack and defence attributes, and you can set up blocking or jamming moves.
It also means games are much quicker to complete. Unlike the hours that the latter missions of Nintendo's Advance Wars series require, EndWar's missions are designed to be played within 15 to 20 minutes, with half an hour the ideal maximum.
Not that you'll be racing through the game. As seems to be the way these days, plenty of stuff has been packed into the cart/UMD. In terms of the single-player campaign mode, it's spread through 99 levels across three locations: Northern Europe including cities such as Paris and London; The Bering Straits between Siberia and Alaska; and finally ending up in a land, sea and air spectacular around, over and in the Black Sea.
There will also be skirmish modes, multiplayer and an extensive map editor – you'll be able to beam your maps to mates to play in multiplayer, while the selection of a large size DS cart means you can store up to 32 maps. We assume your creativity on PSP will only be limited by the size of your Memory Stick.
Graphically the game takes the traditional 2D isometric form, mainly because 3D would have been too taxing for the DS, but also because it works best with the hex-based grid that underlines the gameplay.
Other than that, the portable versions match the console versions of the game wherever possible. That means you can play as the three factions, starting with the Europeans (aka Enforcers), which are akin to the Easy setting. The US (JSF) are the Medium faction, while the Ruskies, as ever, will tax your skills to the full. Other gameplay decisions such as no fog of war and hence the ability to check the attributes of your enemy's units before attacking will be mirrored.
There will be 23 different type of units to control, each of which will play off each other using the standard rock-paper-scissors balancing mechanic. Another interesting aspect of the game is that it will be totally deterministic in nature – i.e. there won't be any randomness when different units fight each other, so your heavy infantry will always be wacked by the light tanks. Schmitt says this is to ensure that "smartness, not luck, always decides the winner".
So far, so definitive. Indeed, the only thing we don't really know is when the portable versions will be released. They're pretty much ready to go we're told, but obviously it makes sense to hold back until the console versions of EndWar are ready and no-one yet knows when that will be.
Still, as bedroom generals who, over the years, have made the transition from toy soldiers to Command & Conquer, we'll be eagerly awaiting to get our Napoleon Complex back up to speed, hopefully sometime before the end of 2008.