Here's a bug game that won’t disgust you.
Imagine that tank sized bugs rule the world and a couple of kids from planet Earth, Yamato and Tsubasa, are recruited by a race of peaceful bugs to stop the evil bugs, the Black Swarm, from conquering the planet. Have a nice mental picture? Good, because you just thought up the entirety of the Drone Tactics plot.
As you can already tell, Drone Tactics isn’t exactly rich in story or lore, but what you might not yet realize is how adept it is at providing an entertaining turn-based strategy RPG experience. Similar to Nintendo's flagship series Advance Wars and Fire Emblem, Drone Tactics features many of the same concepts and designs choices. The obvious difference here is that instead of soldiers or war vehicles, Drone Tactics features "drones." Drones are essentially oversized robotic bugs that can only be controlled by certain humans.
The progression of Drone Tactics is similar to Fire Emblem, providing a sizeable amount of (mandatory) dialogue in between each and every mission to push the story forward. Thankfully, the gameplay found between the layers of terrible story is enjoyable and satisfying.
Missions are handled in two parts: preparation and actual battle. During the preparation phase, players are able to do a multitude of things. First and foremost, players can outfit all of their drones with new weapons to prepare them for the upcoming battle. If players don't have a weapon they need or want, they can create their own weapons in this mode. Many of the weapons can be made specifically for certain types of drones and others will work with just about all of the drones. Players are also able to customize their drones with varying paint jobs and user created emblems. Of course, this won't have an effect on battle performance but is a neat touch that allows players to take ownership of their drones. Up to eight drones can be selected per mission, all of which must be chosen wisely, as each mission demands different types of skills.
The preparation phase will also allow players to manage their cards. Cards are obtained throughout battles and are typically found in chests. These cards can be used for defensive and offensive maneuvers in battles, and they can be combined to produce new cards as well. Selecting and creating the right cards to bring into battle can be just as important as your drone choices, as they will save you or give you the offensive advantage in tight situations.
The card subsystem in Drone Tactics is interesting and unique, and it helps set the title apart from other similar games. Because you can use cards offensively and defensively, becoming good at the game requires you to tactfully equip and use cards. Without this system, Drone Tactics would be as by-the-books as a game could get, following the basic principles of the turn-based strategy RPG genre to exact detail.
The application of these cards occurs in the true meat of the game, the mission mode. Each mission pits the player's drones against those of the computer. The battlegrounds typically have varying types of terrain including woods, water, high grass, rocks, etc. Depending on the terrain, each of your drones will fight and navigate the terrain differently. The concepts found here for defense and offense are great most of the time, allowing for chess-like manipulation of drones in an effort to conquer your enemy. However, the results are not as predictable as in chess. At times, I would attack enemies and randomly seem to do no damage.
In one particular mission, I went for five rounds doing no damage whatsoever to my enemy regardless of the fact that the attack I was doing, according to the rules, should have worked. I eventually lost the mission, and I assumed I must have just done something wrong. Upon retrying, the exact same scenario occurred, except this time I easily destroyed the same enemy from the same location with the same move.
Regardless of the occasionally frustrating battles, my rage was often soothed by the beautiful 3D presentation of all engagements, defensive or offensive. During the battles, all player customizations are displayed, including weapons, drone colors, and emblems. The graphics featured here are some of the best on the DS. Everything looks gorgeous, brilliant and crisp. It would've been great to see the whole game rendered in this fashion rather than in 2D sprites featured on the battle grid.
Upon successful completion of missions, players are given experience points, which will increase various stats on each drone involved in the mission. The feature seems somewhat ineffectual due to the equally increasing enemy difficulty, but the game does provide a side quest system, the Badlands, which can help players grind their characters to higher levels to ease the main missions. With 60 areas of Badlands, players can simultaneously level up their characters and extend gameplay.
The game is controlled by either the traditional D-Pad controls or touch screen controls. The D-Pad controls are preferable simply because the isometric view makes it tough for precise manipulation of the battlefield with the stylus. Regardless, offensive battle cards deployed in the heat of battle will force players to take use of the touch screen. Thankfully, these mini-games control wonderfully and never provide any level of frustration.
Though the controls themselves are decent overall, they falter when it comes to navigating the menu system. Certain menus, such as the one where you choose to engage an enemy, won't let you back out after you have entered them. The results can be frustrating, especially if you accidentally or haphazardly entered the menu. I personally ran into a situation where it caused me to lose a fifteen-minute battle, which I probably would've won had I not made the error.
If you happen to have a friend who also owns Drone Tactics, you can extend your play experience through local wireless play. Up to two players can wirelessly connect and either battle or trade cards. Though this is a nice touch, multiplayer through the Nintendo WiFi Connection would have been preferable. Considering the slew of online options available in the similar Advance Wars series, the lack of options here is simply disappointing.
Overall, Drone Tactics is an enjoyable turn-based strategy RPG. There are some small detractions from the game, including the unforgiving menu system and the god awful dialogue, but they can be overlooked due to the stellar gameplay. Fans of the genre should head out and pick this one up without question; however, new players should test the water with the Advance Wars series first and see how they like the experience before looking into Drone Tactics.