The minifigs are busy at E3 this year. Lego Rock Band is bringing the iconic figures to the music scene, but that isn't their only new game. Lego Battles is a Nintendo DS-exclusive real-time strategy game, and though it's geared toward younger players who may not have grown up on Dune II and Command and Conquer, it has the same insatiable charm that makes the Lego-themed games so consistently fun.
Three of the most popular Lego themes are present in Lego Battles, and there are separate campaigns associated with each one. The three themes are castle, pirate, and space, and each has its own unique characters and buildings to make it distinct. For instance, the castle theme has a king, and you can build farms to feed your troops. There are also cutscenes that have the same silent-joke style from the Lego Star Wars and Indiana Jones games. It's a nice atmosphere and easily recognizable for anyone who grew up with the building blocks.
The gameplay is very similar to other games in the genre. You can select your troops on the touch screen, either individually or in a group if you draw a box around them, and you can point them to various places on the map. Each minifig has its own specialty. A builder erects new buildings, whereas a soldier will use his sword to settle problems. The maps are initially covered in a fog of war, but as you walk into each new area, it opens up, so you can find abandoned buildings or waiting ambushes as you spread your reach.
The combat is very simple. Just point at the enemy you want to target and watch your troops swarm around it. Each theme has its own hero class, which gives you unique abilities to play around with. The king is the hero of the castle theme, and he can give his troops more speed or health, among other things, to make battles more interesting. In addition to pure conquest, there is mild exploration. Blue Lego blocks are hidden across the battlefield, and you can use your collected goodies to unlock more characters and building types. There is also a multiplayer mode so you can test your real-time strategizing against a friend.
The intuitive controls and funny cutscenes give Lego Battles a lot of potential. We were told about naval and sea battles as well, but they were not available in the demo. But the idea of taking to the skies atop a dragon is hard to resist. Lego Battles is scheduled for release later this year, so we'll have to stay tuned to see how it shapes up.