Battles of Prince of Persia

He probably wouldn't want to be Princing up the region right now, but back when the words 'Middle East' stood for exotic mystery, not regional strife, being the Prince of Persia would have been a pretty good job. As the Prince, you'd get to eat sherbert, wear fancy pantaloons, and spend your days planning battles on your Nintendo DS.

On the other hand, Battles of Prince of Persia is almost as complex as today's political difficulties. From the very beginning, this mind-bending army-based strategy card will have you reaching for the manual.

The learning curve is the biggest obstacle to enjoying Battles of Prince of Persia, as once you're halfway to figuring out the interface, it's time to take up arms and go to war. Each battle plays out on the bottom screen, where a rectangular map is divided into squares. You deploy your units – 27 varieties of swordsmen, pikemen or bowmen – then you and your opponent take turns until someone accumulates the necessary victory points. The rock/paper/scissors aspect of the combat will have you puzzling over where to place your troops to counter enemy movements, and you can exploit different types of terrain to stymie your opponent and protect your own forces.

What sets it apart from other turn-based strategy titles is Battles of Prince of Persia's integration of a card battle system. As well as their troops, each player has a deck of 30 cards, from which they are dealt a hand at the beginning of each turn. These cards are used to order your units to move or attack, and some have magical properties to give your guys a battle boost. With each battle won, you acquire more cards and multiplayer offers the chance to win cards that you otherwise wouldn't find in the single player campaign.

It's an interesting idea, and if you've built a tactically strong deck, chances are you'll have some useful cards to play. However, the deck building system is unwieldy at best, and you're more likely to stick with the default options than try to make your own way through the extensive lists.

As for that aforementioned multiplayer support, two human generals can compete in two customisable modes, and there is also a hot-seat mode so you and a friend can play by sharing one DS. Unfortunately though there's no online play here.

Despite all this depth, Battles of Prince of Persia is a difficult game to love. The graphics can best be described as functional. Simple icons represent your units, and short, basic animations play out on the top screen when forces go head-to-head; the odd drop of rain falling away onto the battlefield occasionally suggests a third dimension. The card designs aren't particularly striking either, and although the box states there over 200 different cards, many are really the same card under a different name. More importantly, the on-screen icons are often baffling, so prepare yourself for a lot of head-scratching until you get a feel for the menu system and general gameplay. (There are some initial tutorial levels, but you'll probably find yourself wishing the help system comprised more than just a few early pop-up hints.)

Still, this type of game isn't about presentation. It's about thinking, and seeing the plans you made several turns ago come to fruition is immensely satisfying. You'll have to be prepared to work at winning though, both in terms of learning how the game works, and devoting yourself to long sessions. It's all a far cry from the Prince of Persia platform games on the other formats, with their acrobatic leaping about and slashing sword play.

Hardcore strategy fans will find plenty of enjoyment in Battles of Prince of Persia. But despite its exotic overtones, for the rest of us, it's certainly no rival for Advance War: Dual Strike.

Battles of Prince of Persia is on sale now.

Battles of Prince of Persia

It ain't pretty, but if you work at Battles of Prince of Persia, the gameplay does eventually shine through