Orcs & Elves
| Orcs & Elves DS

If you happen to be a fan of hilarious '90s sitcom Father Ted, then you'll no doubt recall that in one of the episodes Father Jack – the eternally drunken Catholic Priest famous for introducing the word 'feck' into the English language – becomes stranded on Craggy Island's legendary 'Magic Road'. Where, thanks to the strange and freakish nature of the landmark, his wheelchair rolls up the hill instead of down.

Okay, so it's a rather tenuous link, but when playing Orcs & Elves it's hard not to get the same eerie feeling Father Jack must have experienced as he rolled on his merry way up that supernatural hill. Normally, when a video game does especially well (or is a lucrative enough proposition) it may find itself ported to a mobile phone handset, but Orcs & Elves has moved in the opposite direction – it is in fact a conversion of a mobile phone game. On a console.


The original mobile title was little short of astonishing, thanks in no small part to the involvement of id Software's John Carmack – creator of such classic first-person shooter titles as Doom and Quake. It remains arguably one of the most rewarding and value-packed mobile titles money can buy and was justifiably showered with a raft of industry awards when it was published in the not-so-distant past.

When we tested an early build of the DS version a few months ago we came away quite disillusioned – chalk it down to enthusiastic naivety but we were kind of expecting a sequel – but thankfully the final product represents a marked improvement. While it's still true that this is unfortunately more of an 'enhancement' than a fully-fledged update, there are several notable developments that make this an almost irresistibly attractive purchase.

The visuals have been given a lick of paint, for starters. Orcs & Elves is blessed with some particularly lovely 3D dungeons to explore and everything moves along with pleasing fluidity. Movement is still restricted to one grid square at a time and while there are several 3D objects within the game – such as piles of debris, bugs scuttling on walls and assorted room furniture – enemy sprites remain resolutely 2D in appearance. So when viewed from close-quarters they look flat, pixelated and ugly, which is disappointing but by no means a game-breaking issue.

The interface has also seen some alterations. Everything from movement to inventory management can be controlled with the touchscreen (although the D-pad and buttons are also supported, should you be so inclined). It's in this area that the DS version really overshadows its mobile predecessor. Item selection is a breeze; the bottom screen of the DS shows a first-person view of your character's tool belt, bristling with weapons, potions and scrolls. Simply tapping one of these goodies opens up a sub-menu with various options – a few simple stylus movements are then all that is required to equip a new weapon or quaff a potion.

The final (and possibly most effective) amendment involves the aural side of things. The game now contains fantastically atmospheric sound effects for almost every event, be it the sound of your leather boots hitting the cold, damp dungeon floor or the cracking of bone as you sadistically swipe at the corpse of a fallen opponent. Considering the sparse nature of most mobile phone soundtracks this was obviously an area where the developer had to make some genuine effort, but what it's come up with here is impressive, even when compared to other DS titles. The minimal use of music may upset some but in our opinion it only adds to the general ambience.

In addition to these improvements, there are numerous other features that are unique to the DS edition: extra enemies, fresh spells and all-new items being just three. The quest itself remains largely unchanged, offering around 5-10 hours of solid RPG-style action. It plays very much like a toned-down version of early examples of the genre (such as the Atari ST classic Dungeon Master, for those that remember it), with fairly simple puzzles and limited interaction with non-player characters.

Although you initially get the impression that you're moving around the dungeon in real-time, everything is strictly turn-based. This can lead to some rather unusual situations. For example, when an enemy attacks they then have to wait for you to react before they can have another pop; if you don't fight back, they simply stand there patiently twiddling their virtual thumbs. Returning a blow, using an item or moving are all actions that constitute the use of your 'turn'. It's worth nothing this when you're surrounded by foes – because it's not real-time you can assess your options without feeling rushed.

Whatever the pace of your progress, however, Orcs & Elves does become somewhat repetitive after a while – a pitfall the original version avoided thanks to the 'stop-start' nature of mobile phone gaming. It's a weakness, although we'd argue the promise of increased power levels and new items is enough to ensure most gamers will follow the quest through to a successful conclusion.

Of more concern, perhaps, is familiarity with the concept. If you've already played and enjoyed the mobile phone release then you'll probably be questioning if this is a worthwhile purchase. To be honest, despite the improvements what you have here is essentially the same game – the supplementary content doesn't really add a great deal to what was already a thoroughly likeable experience.

However, for those of you that have yet to experience the game, Orcs & Elves DS comes highly recommended. A firm proclivity for fantasy RPG titles will certainly help matters, of course, but the game never overwhelms the player with pointless statistics or complicated inventory management. After all, this is a piece of software initially developed for play on the most humble of gaming platforms – the mobile phone. And, cleverly, it hasn't felt the need to confuse matters in its move 'up' to a handheld console.

Orcs & Elves

It doesn't really add a great deal to the original mobile phone release but Orcs & Elves DS remains an extremely polished and playable adventure that is well worth splashing your Dwarven gold on
Damien  McFerran
Damien McFerran
Damien's mum hoped he would grow out of playing silly video games and gain respectable employment. Perhaps become a teacher or a scientist, that kind of thing. Needless to say she now weeps openly whenever anyone asks how her son's getting on these days.