Mage Knight: Destiny's Soldier Review

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Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Developer: Big Blue Bubble

Platform: DS
Reviewed on DS

Foul earthquakes threaten to shake The Land apart. A Solanavi lord is suspected of constructing a terrible machine that rips its power from the rock and soil itself, destroying fields and ending lives in the process. Now, a warlord has been chosen to gather a force, cross the entirety of The Land and stop the tremors at the source. But, in a war-torn world with every faction at every others' throats, every step brings a new battle with troops of a different power.

Kyle Ackerman

Mage Knight Destiny's Soldier is an often adequate port of WizKids' robust (if now defunct) collectible miniatures game that is plagued with too many technical problems and omissions to satisfy any gamer, let alone fans of the tabletop game. Mage Knight is one of WizKids' "Clix" games in which combatants are physical miniatures with a dial embedded in the base. The combat capabilities of each figure are represented by statistics on the dial, only one column of which is visible at any given time. Each time the warrior takes damage, its dial is moved a number of clicks. Past a certain point, that warrior is dead. That's already complicated enough, as differing movement, attack, defense and ranged abilities lead to a startling array of tactical options. Add on to that dozens of colored shapes, indicating a variety of special abilities that augment the regular rules of the game and you have a seriously complex game. And the DS game doesn't even take into account certain issues like oversized figures and factions.

A License Without a Parent

Unfortunately for this DS game, the Mage Knight game has been discontinued, although there are rumors of a planned re-launch. The complexity of the game system is only the first of MageKnight DS's problems. The many special abilities are competently programmed but poorly explained. The manual is no help and the in-game help screens offer minimal explanations at best. Furthermore, the tutorial offers little instructions beyond the basics of combat. That means if you want to know how to play well, expect to spend some time studying up at the WizKids' site.

The gaping hole in Mage Knight DS is the lack of multiplayer options. Multiplayer gaming over the DS wireless connection would have given life to this title, despite its serious flaws. Even hot-seat play would have ensured that MageKnight fans could earn some enjoyment. But there's not even a skirmish mode for random one-off battles.

The AI Just Doesn't Get It

The entire game centers on a campaign that pits players against the AI, introducing different pieces and factions gradually. So, instead of setting up a quick battle with your chosen figures (even if they had to be unlocked), you have to fight dozens of battles to build up a serious force. And even once you've reached the Emperor's Forum and completed the campaign, all you can do is start over. The campaign is certainly long, including several branching paths where players can choose between two routes, and sports many cleverly designed maps. But map design is the highlight of the game, because the AI is always unimaginative and often dismal.

The essence of success in Mage Knight DS is creating clever combinations of warriors whose special abilities feed one another. Simple examples involve having a strong flier carry a tough but slow unit into the fray or placing a vulnerable (but powerful) unit next to one that can share its strong defense. The game's AI does little other than charge straight into battle. Simple strategies are easily enough to defeat the AI, making the game (without a multiplayer function) considerably less entertaining. For example, the AI likes to cluster around contested flags, so putting units with Venom (that automatically do damage every round) at a flag assures victory. Similarly, the AI will foolishly attack a unit with high defense, high attack and the counterattack special ability. Counterattack means that if an opposing warrior misses, yours gets a free attack. Many battles had the AI throwing itself on my sword in this fashion...repeatedly. Worse, the AI sometimes has pathfinding issues that get foes stuck on the far side of crevasses.

Technical Problems are the Icing on the Leftovers

Worse than the bad AI are the technical glitches. On both the DS and DS Lite, there are constant graphical artifacts, flickering patches of color and frequent extreme slowdowns. The game is also prone to the occasional freeze or crash. That's irritating enough, but those errors become worse the longer the game remains on. So, such crashes are most likely to occur during a Gauntlet battle (a series of maps with no rest in-between). Given that such crashes can invalidate a mid-battle save, the challenge of getting through a Gauntlet is in making it to the end without crashing rather than defeating the enemy. Putting the DS to sleep by flipping the lid closed also aggravates the situation, making the game more prone to crashes.

There are simply too many flaws to recommend this game to anyone – even a die-hard Mage Knight fan. The game can offer a feeble opponent on a lot of intriguing maps, but needs multiplayer functionality and continued troubleshooting to be good.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on December 3, 2006 11:10 PM.

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Mortal Kombat: Armageddon Review (PlayStation 2) is the next entry.

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