Hands on with the mechs of Front Mission DS

And you thought you'd seen the back of them...

Hands on with the mechs of Front Mission DS
| Front Mission

At the moment, you could be forgiven for thinking Square Enix is reaching into its well-stocked archives and re-releasing games on PSP and DS like game design is a discipline without a future.

We're hardly surprised then that the somewhat obscure (from a Western perspective) if critically-acclaimed, turn-based Mech strategy role-playing game Front Mission is receiving a DS makeover. Boasting touchscreen controls, a graphical overhaul, and a new multiplayer mode, it could be one of the most significant facelifts we've seen for a handheld.

Front Mission DS remixes the first game, which was originally released for SNES back in 1995. Two separate single-player campaigns enable you to follow both sides of the war between the Oceania Community Union (OCU) and Unified Continental States (UCS) for possession of land on neutral Huffman Island. You can play as OCU mercenary Royd Clive or UCS officer Kevin Greenfield, with each character offering a unique story and slate of missions.

For our hands on session, we played a mission early in the OCU campaign requiring us to liberate Freedom City from UCS occupation. In essence, enemy forces fleeing the north of the city had to be taken out before they could regroup and launch a second attack.

Before jumping into battle, however, we first needed to prepare our units for armed conflict. Every 'wanzer', or walking panzer, possesses core attributes (melee, short and long attacks, dodge, and skills) that can be enhanced by gaining experience in combat and equipping certain parts – slots for body, left and right arms, legs, and CPU provide specific boosts to a unit's attributes. For instance, a strong body will ensure good defence, whereas light legs can increase success in dodging enemy attacks.

Depending on the unit, you're also be able to load up to four weapons. Obviously, selecting weapons that complement a unit's strengths is important to ensure success on the battlefield. And you'll want to vary your load-out between wanzers to ensure you're engaging enemy forces with a diverse arsenal, too. After configuring our units and then selecting which to send into the fray, the battle commences.

Front Mission is a natural fit for DS, utilising the touchscreen for unit movement and attack orders. Simply tap a unit to select it, which brings up its movement range. Then touch where you want to move the unit to on the ground grid and its movement turn is complete. You can also attack in the same turn, if an enemy happens to sit on an adjacent panel to your final movement position.

Once triggered, combat is handled automatically, in a fashion similar to Advance Wars: Dual Strike. The touchscreen remains focused on the tactical map, while the top display switches to a view of the individual battle. You can't control what your units do during the battle itself, so you need to be careful in choosing which enemy units to attack, and adhere to some sort of strategy lest your guys get wiped from the board.

Should your units survive combat, they'll earn experience points which go towards levelling-up and increasing core attributes. A nice touch is the fact units gain experience even when defending against an attack.

Back to our campaign, and upon successfully dispatching the enemy from Freedom City, we were then able to take to the world map. From here, you're able to select new battles and visit cities for shops, bars, and competitive arenas. Venturing into the city of Menasa, we gathered a bit of gossip at the local bar and checked out the status of various units.

In remaking Front Mission, Square Enix is also including a new head-to-head multiplayer mode. While we weren't able to try this out, we know it won't utilise the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection; instead you have the ability to challenge friends in local wireless matches. It's potentially a key feature, and one that together with the visual update and touch controls has us eager for this game's release.

A European date hasn't been announced for Front Mission yet but its North American equivalent is currently set for October 23rd.