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Join the Battle of Realms in the Nano Kingdoms

Nano Kingdoms is an exceptional game, and by exceptional we mean that it literally makes itself an exception to the rule. And the rule is that real time strategy games are hard to pull off in the Flash game environment. There are limits to the number of active characters that can be present on the screen, individual unit control tends to be clumsy, build trees need to be streamlined and players ultimately forced to follow only specific paths -simply put, the traditional RTS genre is not fit for browser based gaming. If you want an RTS, then you might as well load up Blizzard's Starcraft or EA's (formerly Westwood's) Command & Conquer series games. Or you can play Nano Kingdoms.

Not to say that this game offers the same level of faction duality that makes for a very intensive player against CPU action, but Nano Kingdoms takes an approach to the RTS genre that makes it quite suitable for the browser environment: by doing away with everything that it does not need.

Making Things Different

As opposed to simply following the basic gather-build-train-attack concept that has been established by other RTS titles, Nano Kingdoms approaches the game as straightforward you against the computer matchups. Resource gathering, base upgrading, and troop gathering still play an important part in the game, but emphasis is focused more on telling your troops whether to attack or to defend, and at the same time, still generating enough resources to make new troops.

Simply put, you do not need to do everything all the time. There are some matches where you must focus on simply acquiring lumber (since you will have plenty of meat and metal reserves at the start of the match), some matches will have you focusing on how to make best full use of a massive stock of resources available from the start. All the battles are scenario based and introduction of troop type is done sequentially, allowing you the space to try and learn more about each troop type without having to think about so many other micro managing details.

The Plot

You are the champion of the king, and as such, you have been ordered to gather up the king's forces -or something like that. Regardless of what your initial goal is, the current state of the kingdom suggests that most of the kings followers have all decided to opt-out of being loyal for some random reason or another. Some blame bad resource management on the king's part, others say broken promises, and one is even complaining of a broken (no, we are not kidding about that this) heart.

One way or another, these fine folks (who all have really powerful abilities and their own personal armies) have decided to take up arms against the king and it is up to you to quell them. Fortunately, it takes nothing more than smashing their castles to rubble to get them to see your point of view -in this world, castle smashing is an all around complaint fixer. Once you win against an enemy general, they will see that they are wrong and they will join your side. So apparently, the king's subjects are not only shallow and iffy, but they are also easily swayed by the castle crushing argument.

When you get to the final stages, it will become evident that the fact that these fine folks leaving the king's side for almost inacceptable reasons is not just a random coincidence -someone is behind it all. And despite the king being better off with far more loyal subjects, you and anyone who has come back to your side must go off to the final stage and beat the ultimate evil of the game (or so the story goes).

Story wise, this is hardly the most imaginative thing you would find, but that is besides the point. For most games like Nano Kingdoms, the main plot tends to be irrelevant, and what matters is the delivery -and in that regard, the game manages to shine. Despite your conversations with enemy generals often being quick and one-sided (indeed, these guys love their monologues), most of the content gravitates towards being funny on a surreal level. It certainly merges well with the overall atmosphere of the game and adds to the gaming experience.

The Graphics and Audio

From the massive spell effects to the cheer of militia being summoned to battle, Nano Kingdoms is rich with a variety of details that bring life to this incredibly cute and bizarre world of battle. Right from the start of the game, you are easily clued in on the visual theme of the game: a hybrid of Japanese style anime-art and a children's storybook. The result is a mishmash that manages to pull off a cohesive effect.

Do not expect to see anything here that would go well in from of a death metal album, instead, you will be treated to imagery that feels like it was designed for children's Saturday morning cartoons; from the white sack bodies of the troops to the slightly goofy enemy NPCs, the charm lies in the sharp lines, simple details and a generous use of contrast between colors. Everything in the game, from the footsoldiers to the zombies to the giant golem sized fighters, look like they would do well as plush dolls -which makes us all suddenly wish that we could buy Nano Kingdoms plushies.

Even the settings have a slight dosage of fairy tale fancy; from lush verdant forests to the a-typical fire and molten lava dripping from volcanoes look of a stereotypical final stage. It is all here, and if that was not enough, even the castle's add-on structures are designed to look like they were inspired by things you would find in a toddler's toy bin. And as cute as it may all seem, these details suddenly become irrelevant once you commence battle (well, mostly irrelevant, there will still be plenty of times that you would find some graphic detail to smile about).

Once the game starts, you will be focused on more on your resource growth, troop positions, spell cooldowns and enemy movement. And the great thing is, the developers did not stop at just making good character and background designs, they also made a great game interface.

Everything you need to know, everything you need to access is all right there on the main battle screen. From the bottom bar, you can easily choose which troops to spawn. From the top, a quick glance will reveal your available spells, current mana, resources available, and also, a visual summary of who is leading the battle in terms of remaining health.

On the battlefield itself, every troop member is visually represented. This gives you a bird's eye view of everyone's health levels and battle positions. More importantly, figuring out which troops are yours and which belong to the enemy becomes a simple matter of observing colors. Every visual element is defined individually, allowing you to tell what exactly is happening even if you are casting one spell effect after another.

When you click on the castle, you are shown an upgrade menu. From here, detailed descriptions are provided for each option and there is very little to no risk of accidentally investing your gold on the wrong item. Overall, the user interface is not only intuitive and useful, but it was designed ingeniously well.

All these visual elements are supported by a large array of sound effects that help give life to the game. From troop summoning to spell effects, everything that happens on screen provides the player with a corresponding audio cue. This certainly helps move things along by informing you that you need not press a key the second time. Besides that, hearing all your troops make those unique sounds actually very satisfying. The only thing here that could have used a bit of tweaking is the music -which for the most part, is pretty typical.

The Gameplay

Nano Kingdoms plays like this: you control one side of the screen, and the enemy controls the other side. To win, you must send your troops to the other side and crush the enemy castle. At the same time, the enemy is trying to do the same thing to you. In the end, it all becomes an odd race to see who makes more successful castle attacks before their own castle comes down. It may seem simple, but pulling it off is where all the fun really begins.

The entire build cycle starts with resource production -, the game starts you off with a small farm for meat production. The foundry is used for getting steel and the lumber mill basically gets you lumber. These three resources are all used for upgrading, building new structures and also, for keeping your troops fed. All troops need food to summon, and a bit of either resources. Upgrading the mill, farm or the foundry will increase the production of the structure, and depending on the stage (and your castle level), there is a set number to the number of times you can do this upgrade.

Speaking of which, you have a castle. This is your main base and the one structure that you must keep alive. The game is utilizing every single strategy so that the enemies are able to take this down -which means you must do everything to destroy theirs too. Castles can be upgraded to have more life, offer more structures to build, and also, increase the maximum number of troops you can summon.

And summon you should. Troops are your single weapon for toppling the enemy castle. There are a variety of troops. The first are militia -which are your typical farmers armed with swords. They are cheap and will be available in droves, but against really strong enemies, the militia is easily wiped out. Soldiers are a little tougher than militia. This means that they have a higher defense rating and also a higher damage ability -once you can afford it, soldiers make a fine frontline units for holding off early enemy attacks (and they tend to be early -seems like the CPU is given extra credits to make a good army quite fast).

Archers provide you with a bit of long ranged advantage -this means that before the enemy gets too close, they would have already unleased quite a lot of arrows. The only drawback here is they have unbelievably low HP levels -this means that if they get attacked up close, you would need to send in melee based troops.

Cavalry troops are great for doing attacks -since they take moments to travel from your base to the enemy camp, plus they also have decent HP which makes them excellent for facing off against other enemy troops. The only drawback is that they tend to cost a whole lot more than regular solidiers.

If these initial troops are a little too tame for your taste, then you will certainly enjoy the ones that are available later in the game. For the most part, they are simply upgraded versions of the previous classes, but their immense battle power is so remarkable that they are indispensible to winning the last few stages of the game. These special troops are golems, elephant riders, and ballistas (basically: soldiers, cavalry, and archers). Of course, the cost of building a single one of these units will require a lot of resources, so players will have to balance resource production along with playing defensively at the start of the game.

Character selection also plays a big part of this game -primarily, due to the fact that special abilities could easily turn the tide of battle. Each character has two unique special abilities -and knowing these abilities will allow you to fully unleash your war potential. Also, the two abilities always come in a basic pattern -one skill uses a small amount of mana to cast, while the other skill takes a lot of mana. Skills range greatly in terms of effects, some will increase troop armor, one will summon an entire platoon of militia, one will suck up HP from everything in the field and add the damage as life to the caster's own castle, and one of the final boss' abilities will wipe out any troop standing near the center of the stage. Knowing what to cast and when is a crucial strategy in the game. Players should focus on getting familiar with the spells and abilities of different characters to see what goes well with their play style.

Since your goal is to attack the enemy castle, the game is quite rewarding for players who play a very offense-based strategy. Regardless of which character you select and what skills you have, bearing down on an enemy castle has its merits (for one thing, having a huge army in front of the castle easily kills off whatever troops may spawn out -since the system can only produce one unit of each troop type at a time). Also, the more damage you deal on the enemy castle, the more likely you are to end the stage quicker (the longer you play, the more chances you give to the enemy).

Nano Battles are Fun

Playing the game, we found ourselves falling in love with the game's incredibly simple yet unbelievably clever play system. You had troops, can order to have them defend your base or attack the enemy, and you have spells that are to be casted every so often. Choosing an action has never been so simple and final. The enemy strategies are also straightforward and relentless, which means that even hardcore players will get a kick out of fighting the ending bosses. Also, those playing the game for the first time will undoubtedly find themselves both impressed and annoyed at discovering that enemies could cast certain spells that can totally change who is defending and who is attacking.

The Verdict

Fun is always a massive factor for any game, take it out of the equation and you will be left with a great narrative, impressive graphics, terrific audio, but not a game to play. Fortunately for Nano Kingdoms, it does well on all categories, and wraps it up nicely with a game that is not only addictive to play, but is also rewarding to finished. Another thing we love is the fact that each stage has its own settings -limitations on what you can build, how much resources you start with, and of course, who the enemy is. This means that you compete in situational sequences as opposed to bringing all your troops from one place to another.

Truth be told, this game could have easily fallen over the wrong side of the fence. The RTS game genre is not the easiest thing for developers to create on a Flash platform, and figuring out a great system is nothing short of genius. With its intuitive controls, utterly-cute graphics, addictive gameplay and silly storyline, Nano Kingdoms is one high end Flash game for gamers of all types.