Battles of Prince of Persia Hands-On

We check out a work-in-progress version of Ubisoft's card-based strategy game for the Nintendo DS.

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Currently scheduled for release in December, Battles of Prince of Persia is a turn-based strategy game based on Ubisoft's popular Prince of Persia series of action games. Battles of Prince of Persia incorporates an intriguing card-based orders system and boasts campaign, versus, and skirmish modes of play in which you can put your custom card decks to the test. We recently had an opportunity to spend some quality time with a work-in-progress version of the game, and we can report that while it appeared to be overly complex at first, it's shaping up to be both enjoyable and accessible.

Since we have access to only one copy of Battles of Prince of Persia right now, we've not been able to check out the game's wireless multiplayer features or card trading. It is possible to play two-player versus games on a single DS in a hotseat mode, but to date we've concentrated on progressing as far as we can through the single-player campaign missions--earning new cards for our collection in the process.

In Battles of Prince of Persia, the titular prince is in fact a mighty general in the Persian Army, whose enemies include the Indians and the Deavas. As the prince, you'll be tasked with defeating enemy generals and armies, as well as with achieving mission-specific military objectives from time to time, such as reaching a strategic but well-defended location. The units under your command, including your all-important general (the prince, if you're playing a campaign mission) all appear on the map as colored squares with logos denoting what type of unit they are. The most basic units you'll command are soldiers armed with swords, pikes, or missiles--three weapons that enjoy a rock, paper, scissors relationship. Mounted soldiers work in much the same way and don't always have an advantage over enemies who are on foot. Some of the enemy generals that we've encountered thus far have had access to powerful siege weapons and magical attacks, but we've yet to count either of those things among our own arsenal.

Battles in the game are played out in "hours," and each hour comprises a number of player turns. Special card effects notwithstanding, you'll get to use each of your units only once per hour, and you'll get to use a maximum of four units each turn. The number of units that you get to move during any given turn will depend on which of the cards from your hand of around seven (dealt each hour from a customizable deck of 30) you choose to play. Every card in your deck carries a number between 2 and 4 that determines how many of your units you get to put into action on the turn that you play it. In addition, the game's uncommon, rare, and ultra-rare cards have special effects that, should you decide to take advantage of them, will sometimes result in that card being discarded for the remainder of the mission. Other cards will return to your pile and be dealt out a second time should the battle go on long enough for you to run out of cards.

Typically, special effects that you can use on the battlefield involve increasing the movement range or combat skills of specific units for a time, healing units that have sustained damage, or adversely affecting the stats of enemy units in some way. Unit statuses can also change as a result of crushing defeats in battles--battles that are played out using Advance Wars-style animations that show simplistic visual representations of the battling units having a go at each other. The animations, like the rest of Battles of Prince of Persia's visuals, aren't particularly impressive, but they're in no way detrimental to the gameplay, and they do a pretty good job of letting you know how your units have fared in a battle before the actual scores are displayed.

Units that suffer significant losses will get pushed back or might even attempt to flee the battle.
Units that suffer significant losses will get pushed back or might even attempt to flee the battle.

Units that lose badly in a battle will often get pushed back a square on the map and will be followed by their attackers. If it's not possible for the unit to get pushed back because there's already another unit behind it, the unit will lose a further 50 percent of however much health it lost in the battle. Surrounding an enemy is a good tactic, then, although if all of your units are facing a single target, you might leave them vulnerable to attacks from their rear. In addition to getting pushed back, units who suffer particularly devastating losses might become stunned (rendering them more vulnerable to attacks and incapable of following orders for a time) or broken, in which case they'll automatically attempt to flee the battlefield unless a nearby general can rally them.

Battles of Prince of Persia definitely has plenty of depth to it, but without being overly difficult to come to grips with. The regular awarding and subsequent use of new cards promise to keep the game interesting, and although the game will almost certainly be best played with friends, the single-player portion looks to have plenty to offer also. We'll bring you more information on Battles of Prince of Persia as soon as it becomes available.

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