Card Game + Turn Based Strat = one giant MegaZord of rules insanity.
Though Battles of Prince of Persia (BoPoP, say it and love it) is part of a welcome strategy trend on the DS, it is one of the system's lesser efforts. Seizing a popular franchise and a stylus-friendly design, the game has just enough complexity to isolate the uninitiated and just enough monotony to bore the genre's junkies. It is by no means a bad game, and if there was a drought of stellar DS titles I could recommend BoPoP as a good fill-in, but sadly (or not), no such drought has occurred.
The game play of BoPoP is more like a strategy board game than a strategy role-playing game. In fact, as the title implies, the game covers only battles – no role-playing required. During these battles the bottom DS screen assumes the top-down perspective of a sparsely decorated two dimensional field, with small squares to represent your units. The top screen is used for statistics, cards, and battle animations. The interaction between the two screens is efficient and informative, if a bit dry. There are some nice spell effects and battle animations, but they become tiresome and time-wasting (luckily, you can turn them off). Graphically, the game isn't shooting very high, but is at least highly functional.
Par for the strategy course, everything in the game has stats, from your units to the land and your general. These stats interact in a complex way, but the game does a good job of communicating visually what can be done where and how effective it will be. For instance, right before you attack an enemy, you will get a reading indicating how well you will do, and in which areas you are strong or weak. Control of your units is doled out entirely by cards, dealt into your hand. You use one card every “turn," and a game “hour" will pass when you run out of cards and units to use. Most cards have two functions: they can be used to give your units orders for moving and attacking, or they can perform effects such as strengthening your unit's stats or weakening your enemy's units. Some cards are removed after play, and others are shuffled back into the deck. The way to beat the game is to put your good cards to best use and know how the units interact with the land and each other.
The first thing you will experience with BoPoP, its most glaring fault, is that it is just too darn complicated to learn. The reason is that BoPoP combines two totally disparate genres: card battle, and turn based strategy. You don't have any menus for commands at all; cards are used for every single game action. Once learned, it isn't so bad, but deck management will throw strat fans off, while the game has nothing to do with card battles, outside of cards. The manual should help ease the learning curve, but it's poorly organized and, while detailed, too complex to gain anything without playing the game; in the same way, the in-game tutorial lasts just long enough to get you started, but not long enough to prevent you from making newbie mistakes eight hours into the game. The dual usage of each card is a huge sticking point, even though it's the most basic game play mechanic. Likewise, the interface is filled with symbols and little to no descriptive text to guide you. After your trial by fire, and a few close calls, you'll be comfortable and gaining proficiency in completing each mission. However, this solid matching of ability and difficulty lasts only a few levels. The difficulty ramps up until around the eighth mission, where it lands and nests; by the tenth mission, you'll have seen everything BoPoP has to offer. Of the game's twenty four missions, five are unique, and the rest are just variations thereof. Interest will wane quickly when the game throws remixes of past levels at you, vainly hoping you really like the tactical game play, but even tactics and mission goals run dry. It doesn't take too much skill to beat a match, but it does require a certain amount of devotion that the game will burn out of most players.
To add to the dryness, the game's story is only featured in between battles, and even then doesn't feature much. The story modules are really justifications for more battles. Each campaign in story mode is a set match between two armies, either India, Persia, or Daeva. The game has decided to take an open view of this small period of PoP history, giving you control over each army in turn, rather than just Persia. The story mode does not follow any one specific country but jumps around so much that the rivalries lose all meaning. One battle has you play as a Persian general who kills the Daeva general's wife, then in the battle immediately following, you lead the offended general's vendetta mission to kill the Persian general. It's hard to feel anything in this situation. You'll play a couple times as the Prince of Persia, but you often fight against him too. There are even battles that take place in a flashback, a quick device to squeeze more game play out of lifeless text. Outside of stats for each army and its general, the characters have little purpose and could have been represented just as easily by fish or camels.
There is a two player battle mode that requires two game cartridges, but can also be played by one player against the computer. The options aren't great, but with a variety of cards and generals at your selection, as well as some options for each player's goal, some nice combinations can be found. The hardest part will be finding someone else who has the game and wants to play it with you, but to remedy this problem, the developer has included a “Hot Seat" mode which allows two players to play with one DS, switching hands when it is your turn.
Though the game's stylus-based controls are tight, and for a while seems to offer a nice distraction, it soon becomes a chore to pick it up at all. With little story incentive and no hope for variety, you probably won't make it past the halfway mark. I can recommend BoPoP only for those who are having trouble finding games to buy on the DS, but right now my problem is quite the opposite.