Ancient Tribe Review
Posted by Zach Kaplan
Hot on the heels of T-Rex Rumble comes Ancient Tribe, another real-time strategy game in which you lead a prehistoric society as it grows, develops and fights the beasts with whom it shares the land. We at Nintendo Life try to judge a game for what it is instead of what it's not, but when two games that share the same basic concept hit the virtual shelves just one week apart from one another, it's hard not to compare the two. Unfortunately, this only helps to emphasize what a poor release the latter is, coming up short in every area that counts.
The game starts with a map screen from which you can click different hunting spots to explore, each with a difficulty level of one to four stars. Your goal is to develop your civilization until it's five thousand inhabitants strong and can subsequently construct a flying spaceship thing called a "miracle." To reach this point, you'll send your army, which can grow to a total size of five soldiers, into these areas to slay ancient animals and collect lumber and stone. You'll also amass meat to sustain your society, and if you don't grab a certain amount, a portion of your people will perish. When you attain a set number of resources, you'll be able to perform an upgrade, increasing your maximum population, opening new slots in your militia and gaining access to new areas to explore. You can also instead put your stored material toward unlocking new warrior classes and special godly moves, like the power to heal wounded men or to damage your enemies with a lightning bolt. In each stage, you have until sunset to pick up what you can before you send your army home. Otherwise, these veritable reverse vampires will immediately pass away and you'll have to recruit more.
You control the game largely with the stylus, clicking the spot to which you want your men to travel or the enemy that they're to attack. You can scroll about the map by clicking arrows on each side of the screen or by using the control pad. Both of these are extremely slow methods, but luckily you can do them both at once and speed up the process (though this doesn't feel like something that the developers intended, as it fails to work on the main map screen — just one example of Ancient Tribe's lack of polish). You cannot save in the middle of a level, but none are long or complex enough for this to really matter.
The main problem with the game is the utter lack of variety. Every level is one big rectangle, the only differences from one to the next being aesthetic. There are no major terrain changes in any of them, the only comparable thing being the rocks and trees placed about each. Since they're all almost exactly alike, there's no fun in unlocking new spots whatsoever.
That's just the tip of the game's iceberg of mediocrity. Everything just screams "bland." The animals and dinosaurs all behave in the same way, except for the boss enemy (or enemies, depending on the difficulty level — basically one star means one boss enemy, two stars means two, three means three and four means only boss enemies). These are tougher, stronger and can perform two special moves. Not that this adds much complexity — they all act the same, look like an enlarged version of the other enemy that inhabits the stage (each only has one), and can perform the same moves as each other (stun and trample). Then there's the resources, which you simply have to touch to collect. Lumber will come pre-chopped and stone pre-carved. You don't even see the meat, it's just automatically added to your inventory when you slay a monster.
Additionally, the aforementioned obstacles littering each stage halt your men's progress in the simplest sense. They just keep running into them, trying to get around them, as if it's some sort of glitch. This gets especially annoying when you're trying to battle a beast and half of your army can't find their way around a tree to join in the fight. Perhaps this is intentional, but it just feels silly and aggravating.
There's also the irritation of accidentally deselecting men, which can happen quite easily when things get more hectic. Just click any of them and all of the others will no longer be under your control. Since there's very few situations in which you won't want to direct all of your army at once, this is especially frustrating. There's also many times at which you'll tell a man to do something and he'll just stand there or, worse, inexplicably run in the opposite direction before coming back and performing his assigned task. Abundant will be the instances in which you'll have to click a random spot on the ground to awaken your idiotic army by having them walk to it.
The warriors are unvaried, the shamans (another class of soldier) are ultimately not worth recruiting and you'll probably never find much use for most of the special powers. There's a small amount of strategizing in making sure that you refill your health bars at the right times, but all told, you'll devote most of your thought to seeing that you satisfy your material and meat quotas and that your men get out of each stage by nightfall without getting stuck on a boulder along the way. It just starts to feel boring and grueling before long.
The battles are also incredibly unremarkable. Everyone attacks in the same way: they turn slowly to one side and then sharply to the other. When you or a boss enemy uses a special move, an icon appears on the screen to represent the effect, the only illustration of it that you'll see. There's also no dimensionality at all to any of it; you view things from above, and people walk over trees and underneath dinosaurs that look to not be much bigger than they are. Otherwise, the graphics, sound and music are decent and innocuous, but when put to the test the presentation absolutely fails.
Speaking of which, one might think that Ancient Tribe is meant for a younger audience, indicated by the fact that all of your tribesmen are children and the first thing that you see is an adorable cave-girl with a pair of creepy giant eyes. Perhaps that is why everything is so simplified, but if that's true then it just reveals the creators' misguided assumption that to produce something that appeals to children, you just have to dumb it down. It also makes the first fault you'll come across all the more devastating: there is almost no guidance whatsoever. The instruction manual does a decent job, but there is no in-game tutorial, meaning that you'll have to learn every aspect pretty much through trial and error.
Maybe the best way to illustrate the game's lack of polish is to share the message that the game displays once you've beaten it (spoiler alert): "Congratulations!! Your miracle is completed! And your people is now paying worship to you in the miracle. Because of your mercy and guidance, your people is now paying tribute to you and you become their only god!" Indeed.
Extremely non-compelling and tedious, Ancient Tribe attempts to present a simple, real-time strategy game but throws out any depth or fun in doing so. It's also confusing at times and graphically unimpressive to boot. While not appalling, it's undoubtedly below average.