Of course, there’s more to it than that. The battlefields pose their own challenges, with areas of fire or water that are traversable by some Pokémon, but not others. There are traps and shortcuts to discover. Each commander has his or her own ability or abilities, which can be used once per battle to heal or give offensive and defensive perks to Pokémon on the team. What’s more, each commander has a special link to a certain Pokémon, and by combining the two and nurturing that link you can build a fighting force to be reckoned with, transforming warriors and Pokémon into new and more potent forms.
In fact, scratch the game’s cartoon surface and there’s an enormous amount of depth here. In the first part of the game you can afford to simply build a big army and trample your neighbours, but as time goes on you’ll find yourself having to post commanders to defend key kingdoms, use some to mine for gold or grab provisions, and generally manage a growing army of heroes and Pokémon. Each kingdom can only support so many, and invading armies are limited in size, so you have to think carefully about balancing your Pokémon types to repel aggressors, and about what kind of Pokémon force will triumph against a kingdom of, say, fighting-class or rock-class Pokémon.
An Epic Challenge
What’s more, the game is vast. We’re still working through the initial campaign, and there are over 30 challenge scenarios to be unlocked once that is over. Add multiplayer options and this is the sort of the game that might keep clever kids enthralled all summer long.
The danger with a game like this is that it fits between too stools, too complex for the typical Pokémon audience, but too simple (and too Pokémon) for fans of strategy to bother with. However, Pokémon Conflict does a pretty good job of avoiding this trap. While the gameplay is more sophisticated than classic Pokémon, the concepts and mechanics are drip-fed through in the early stages of the campaign, and the controls and user-interface are clean and intuitive. The cartoon graphics, the cut-scenes and the whole presentation just ooze fun, and it’s hard to imagine a better ‘My First Wargame’.
And while Pokémon Conquest is no Total War, it’s still got more to it than most handheld strategy games. If it’s not quite up there with the best Advance Wars games in terms of tactics, there’s still an awful lot to do.
We have some quibbles, like the way commander portraits are recycled or the occasional sudden difficulty spike, but these are relatively minor. In the end, if you have no children and an allergy to all things Pokémon, then Pokémon Conquest simply won’t appeal. If, however, you want to keep a young Poké-fan busy during quiet parts of the holidays, or you simply fancy a fine handheld strategy game yourself, then Pokémon Conquest might be just what you’re after.
Pokémon Conquest is a surprise strategy hit, with tens of hours of addictive collect-and-conquer gameplay and more depth than you might give it credit. It’s the perfect starter strategy game for any offspring, but also a good buy for older DS gamers who enjoy the art of war.