Total War Battles, developed for the iPhone by Sega (and is an iOS universal app), puts you in control of the armies of the late 16th century Japan. You must build your resources, with buildings like lumber yards, blacksmiths and shrines, in order to deploy your armies of samurai, ronin, archers, cavalry, monks and yes, a ninja.
The Total War line of games have for a long time helped to define the real time strategy genre of video games. With all their excellent animations, tactical control and meta management of resources, I was excited to see what their first entry onto the iOS platform would be like. Head into the fray after the break.
My first time playing it took me through a number of simplified tutorial battles, where I learned the ropes of generalship and resource management. There are a couple of twists to this game, in part because of the small screen size, but also because of it being a touch interface, and the tutorials did well to hold my hand while I learned the ins and outs.
Once you get through the training games, you can set off on the campaign to conquer the islands. The scenarios along the way incorporate new features, like reinforcing your troops with orders, and so continue to teach you the tactics in stages. At first I thought this felt limiting, but have to admit now that it taught me at a good pace, which kept my interest.
As I mentioned, this game has a couple of twists to its gameplay that one might not have expected from a game in the Total War line. Mainly, the game map is divided into hexes, giving it a board game feel, and units can only move forward, never retreating. But the action is still all real-time, so these limitations actually add a layer to the tactical complexity, rather than taking one away.
Once you get your basic buildings built and start collecting resources, you can recruit and deploy your units. The units have a wide variety of capabilities, and you have to pay pretty close attention to what you deploy against what, if you want to succeed.
Art & Animation
One of my favorite elements of the Total War line of games is the artistry that they put into the settings and details. Total War Battles is no exception to this trend; the maps are beautiful, with a sort of fantastical, mythical feel to them.
There is one level of zoom which gets you a bit closer to the action, but limits your birds-eye view of the whole. You can use it to better enjoy the animations of the warriors fighting it out, which are some of the best parts of the game for me. Even though very small, the refinements to the movements show the years of experience in game development that have gone into this release.
As a game designed for touchscreens, it has taken all the basics into account. The small screen of the iPhone can be a bit tricky (as usual) to get all your taps in right when and where you need them. But in general, the ability to direct and manage the various elements of the battlefield works quite well, being just challenging enough to stay compelling.
I think the use of the hexagon map grid is quite cool. If it were a more traditional free-for-all it would not have the same level of complexity that this form of limitation imposes. You really have to play each move smart, with units that never retreat, and make sure no one gets forgotten while charging off to glory.
Along the campaign trail there is a very mixed fair of scenarios you have to complete. Many are pretty straight forward battles, but as often as not there is some special win condition that will test your tactical skills in a new way. Limited troops, survival levels, timed success or even just the placement of a certain number and type of buildings within a tricky terrain all come into play as you progress.
Though at present it does not offer any form of remote multiplayer, it does offer an interesting spin in its head-to-head multiplier. These games are played on a single iPhone, the players sitting across from each other, all still in real time and with a top down view of the battlefield. This is cool, but the players have to be careful not to smash fingers together as they control their forces.
Performance & Value
I have not had a single crash with this game yet, which is impressive to me considering all the micro animations and troop tracking that is going on throughout. The game really is something to take in, with all the action, ambient sounds, animations and idealized scenery.
I was a little disappointed to learn that there is no free-for-all, online multiplayer option. After playing through almost all of the campaign though, I can see now that they have provided me with such a variety of scenarios that I can go back and replay when I like, that I feel pretty satisfied with the $6.99 price tag. Also, they have just released a free demo version of the game, so you can check it out before diving in.
The tactical gameplay is engaging, the art and animations are beautiful and the campaign is long enough to keep you at it for a while, with good replay-ability. I think overall we have a very clean and clever game here, that has made me excited to see where they will take it next — the app store page is already promising new features coming soon.
If I had a wish list for this already excellent game, I would put online multiplayer at the top. Then such things as new units, map design, scenario options and additional armies would come to mind. I have no idea what their planned scope is for this game, but if it follows in the footsteps of the main Total War line, any of these are possible.