The Settlers
| The Settlers

Isn't it awful when something you've looked forward to is spoiled by small details? Like the zit on the end of your date's nose or the screaming, door-banging kids in the adjoining hotel room.

Yet, so it is with the DS port of PC classic, The Settlers – another potentially good game ruined by unforgivable technical issues.

For those unfamiliar with the series, we should point out The Settlers has an ardent following and has been delighting gamers of all persuasions since it launched on the Commodore Amiga over ten years ago. Sure, a game about economic decision-making and the intricacies of supply and demand might not immediately sound like a recipe for excitement but The Settlers has a Sims-like quality in the way it keeps adding new toys for you to experiment with. If Gordon Brown played games, this would be top of his list.

The idea is simple but intoxicating. After finding yourself shipwrecked on a lush, verdant continent, it's your task to establish a home base, build up resources, defend your borders and eventually build a civilisation to rival that of Rome itself.

Unlike many strategy games, the emphasis in The Settlers is on the micro-management of economic resources rather than military might. While military options do come into play later in the game, establishing a healthy supply chain of food, minerals, and building materials for your citizens is key to consolidation and expansion. If just one of the many resource – whether it be the likes of fish or wood – is exhausted, you'll soon struggle to keep everything running smoothly.

Thankfully, the expansion of your civilisation is handled incrementally so you don't feel overwhelmed. To begin with, you merely have to build a quarry and woodcutter's hut to get the supply of wood and stone moving into your HQ, so you can expand more quickly. Fishing, hunting, farming and mining soon follow.

Making sure adequate supplies reach each of your buildings is crucial for success, so laying down an integrated road network is important. Like much of the building system in The Settlers, this is almost done automatically for you. You simply point at pre-set blue marker flags that are scattered throughout the map to link roads together.

Just watching as your citizens go about their work can be fascinating and the real joy of The Settlers comes from observing a hive of activity building up as a result of successful decision-making.

The stylus controls feel incredibly clunky, however, and the Windows-style interface for missions is like something out of the dark ages – it completely ignores the current standard of user interface design in other DS strategy games (notably ANNO 1701: Dawn of Discovery). So sometimes you'll be poking at the screen without any response, while some of the tiny icons make navigation around your world overly difficult. Add to this a zoom function that often crashes the game, as well as jerky map scrolling (operated with the D-pad) and you have a game that's often more painful than pleasurable.

And if that wasn't bad enough, The Settlers also contains a number of bugs that are staggering – and surprising given Nintendo's usually strict game submission process. During play, we experienced the disappearance of our zoom icon (making scrolling around the map even more awkward), a blip that left us unable to attack enemies (even though our army was armed and prepared), as well as another that saw our carefully stored resources disappearing into thin air.

To be fair, in the early and mid stages of the game, things generally run smoothly. It's only when your civilisation has several metalworks, shipyards, fortresses and barracks that the game slows down considerably, as if calculating all your output is simply too much for the humble DS. Try to zoom in directly after a save, for instance, and the game crashes.

It's a shame as initially, the game's flow is fast, addictive and constantly rewards good decision-making with more toys to play with (such as catapults to defend your borders and ships to increase your territory). And it's not like it lacks the content. Micro-management depth extends to altering the priority of tool production, detailed lists of every resource you store, as well as changing the defensive priorities of your soldiers, for example.

There's also some charm in the visuals and sound effects. Delicate noises such as the grunting of your pigs and the tweeting of birds add to the atmosphere, while observing your mill owner taking a nap as fresh supplies of wheat make their way through the supply chain always raises a smile.

If only this superb confluence of elements hadn't been ruined by the technical issues…

It is still possible to get a lengthy campaign game out of The Settlers, but it's a hard slog and one we can't recommend as it requires you saving constantly, while carefully monitoring every storehouse and garrison to ensure a game-ending bug hasn't occurred. Frankly, it's unacceptable when so much quality – and bug-free – software is available elsewhere for the DS.

Sadly, then, The Settlers emerges as a real botched job and one that desecrates the good name of the series. Occasionally, you'll find glimmerings of the old magic but this is more a mummified corpse than a glorious resurrection.

The Settlers

You may squeeze some entertainment out of The Settlers in the early stages but its bugs and inconsistencies will eventually break your spirit