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Joystiq presents

DS Fanboy Review: Drone Tactics

It was hard not to look forward to Drone Tactics. Not only are strategy games easy to love on the DS, but anything with giant stompy robots that are also bugs is an attention-grabber. But that's a tough area to break into; the SRPGs in the DS library are just so darned good that any newcomer needs to have something special on offer. Are the insects in Drone Tactics enough of a draw?

The answer is, unfortunately, a little more complicated than a simple "yes." At times, Drone Tactics really shines, but it takes a little time and effort to get there.

Gallery: Drone Tactics

On the surface, Drone Tactics is just another mediocre effort with a very thin veneer of story that might as well not even exist, and characters that are yawn-worthy to the extreme. The game is clearly designed to appeal to younger players, which is why it's so surprising to find that the gameplay rivals the depth of last year's Front Mission.

You wouldn't know it from the beginning, however. There's a definite feeling that a lot of this was simply slapped together. Someone decided that making an SRPG sounded good, and the concept was cobbled together from the most random ideas people could produce. The end result feels like a patchwork from DS games that came before, but at the core, there is a very solid system here.

The game kicks off with two young friends who happen to really be into bug-watching. What happens next is right out of a childhood fantasy -- the bugs start watching, and talking, back, and declare that the two kids are just the heroes they're looking for. They're whisked off to the homeland of the insects, where they're to help fight off the Black Swarm. They're not as special as you'd think, though; it isn't long before you run into more of those not-so-unique heroes.

But that's getting ahead. As soon as our intrepid young insect enthusiasts arrive at Cimexus, they're thrust into the first battle, which serves a tutorial. It's here that the game turns into something delightfully surprising. Though this first battle is ridiculously easy, it's clear at once that there's a solid foundation here, if not a ground-breaking one. The old stand-bys are here in full effect; terrain matters, individual units boast different strengths and weaknesses, and ground- and air-based units have different attack specialties.

It all sounds very unexciting, eh? So Drone Tactics has solid strategy mechanics -- so do dozens of other DS games. But the reason Drone Tactics actually does manage to shine is its level of customization. So many strategy games seem similar, which is why the ability to really be a general, of sorts, and build your own army is rather refreshing. You can dictate and control just about every aspect of your cadre of bugs here, from their emblems to the weapons they take into battle, and as your little army grows, it starts to feel like your particular leadership makes a difference. Someone else would produce something different -- this army fights for you and you alone.

There are a few extras here that are pretty nice, as well. There are side missions that can help your buggy units gain experience and earn resources, and a card game element that can give you some nice boosts in battle. You get into these elements as soon as the game opens up, which is nice. If you can make it through the boring beginning, Drone Tactics becomes a much better experience, and building and equipping your own weapons and earning cards is a fun diversion.

Is that enough? Not to compete with the very best of the DS, no, but it's enough to make Drone Tactics a worthwhile experience, particularly for those who appreciate single player strategy over multiplayer. An online mode might have been enough to vault the title into the upper echelon of DS strategy, but without it, the story holds this one back. Luckily, there isn't much of it, but what is there is eye-rollingly awful. You may also find yourself playing through those side missions many, many times, to the point of head-banging repetition.

If you're looking for something to tide you over between other games, this could be it. Not a strategy veteran? No problem; Drone Tactics eases you into things (maybe too slowly for some) and gives you a chance to master everything before things get tougher. But unless you're a huge strategy buff, Drone Tactics may not be the game to pull you away from that pile of unplayed DS games. It's a solid title, but nothing to get excited about.

The basics:

Controls: Though you can use the stylus, it is not recommended here due to accuracy issues. Stick with the buttons and you'll be fine.

Visuals: For the most part, the graphics are merely average and the character designs nothing special. But the insect mecha really shine here, particularly in the topscreen battles. While the footage gets repetitive after a while, you'll watch more than a few battles just for the satisfaction of bugs slamming into each other.

Sound: A mediocre score does nothing to set Drone Tactics apart.

Story: You might call this a story, if you were feeling generous. Really, it's an excuse for those bug-slamming moments mentioned above.

Difficulty: Drone Tactics is never incredibly difficult, though there are some thought-provoking moments. However, gaining experience for units by repeating missions grows tiresome.

Final verdict: 7.0/10 -- there's so much to do here that it's worth dealing with the less-than-stellar elements.

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