I imagine that it is a challenge to cram a respectable strategy game onto the cell phone. Macrospace's Ancient Empires is a risky title, but in the end it comes off as a success.
Playing as a medieval king, you must stop your evil twin brother from taking over the kingdom. Warriors, archers, lizardmen--and later wyverns and wizards--are at your disposal and must be utilized based on strengths and weaknesses. The system is not unlike chess.
The controls take a minute to get used to but become native after the first round or two. It uses the basic 2/4/6/8 directions to move the cursor, while the left and right soft keys confirm or cancel choices.
The game area is 2-by-2 screens filled with rivers, mountains, and forests. Each game terrain gives characters less or more defense. Fighting on flat or watery ground will give zero defense points, while stone roads, trees, and mountains will give one, two or three points, respectively. The higher the defense points, the harder it is for the opponent to hit the characters.
Each character icon represents 10 fighters, so when two groups decide to fight, the game goes split-screen and shows a close-up of the 20 characters fighting. The animations aren't amazing, but the graphics are crisp and the battle scenes are always fun. And, of course, the more pivotal the battle, the more exciting it is to watch.
Refreshingly, there is a nice story arc to go along with the war, which makes each area have a different pace and strategy. For instance, one level has you escorting a lizard king, while another requires you to stop the ambush of a small village.
That said, this still is a strategy game, so those looking for fast-paced thrills should avoid this like the plague. Much of the game is spent anticipating what the enemy is doing, surveying new terrain, and moving your troops from here to there. If, on the other hand, you enjoy turn-based strategy games of any stripe, Ancient Empires is pure mobile ecstasy. The gameplay will have you hooked by the third round of combat, and there are a ton of objectives to complete. The game has many fresh locations, the missions are a well-designed length, and you can literally pick up where you left off at any time thanks to the smart save function.
Overall, this is a great strategy title for the cell. I hope future strategy games follow its lead.