Horrible Histories Ruthless Romans (Nintendo DS) - Review by Andrew
We're used to franchises and DS owners are constantly bombarded with games claiming to enhance their movie going or TV watching experience. Of course, this is rarely the case as most of these tie-ins are simply poorly designed games with little money or development time behind them. This is a little different though because it is a book being pounced on as potential DS material and what excites us is the fact that it's part of the best selling Horrible Histories series. Better still, the creators (Author Terry Deary and Illustrator Martin Brown) have been an integral part of the process. A move that the earlier Harry Potter games benefited from thanks to JK Rowling's involvement.
The gameplay starts off a little on the wordy side with an ancient Roman bust filling you in on the story so far. It's worth listening to though as you may be tested on what you know later in the game. You play as Rassimus, a peasant with aspirations to become a Gladiator, a long and arduous process, not without its problems. To begin with you'll be under the watchful eye of Lucius (who happens to own a Gladiator School) but you'll quickly be able to explore much of ancient Rome.
To begin with you'll simply wander around chatting to the various inhabitants of the area all of whom will share their personal wisdom with you. There are also many history books, left carelessly lying around, containing historical information about ancient Rome. It would be easy to simply skip over these but, given that your knowledge will be put to the test within the first ten minutes thanks to a trivia quiz, we'd recommend that you actually take the time to remember the more important facts. You're treated to a whole host of ingenious mini-games too, all with a Roman theme, so it's unlikely that you'll feel that you are playing the same game every five minutes. What's most impressive about the design though, is the way that the City slowly opens up as you become more comfortable with the interface and puzzles, so you'll have a very limited area to deal with while you are getting to grips with things, but later on you'll constantly be referring to the map to figure out just where you are. The results are both fun and educational, an almost impossible mix, but don't expect to get much extended play once its completed although you can play all the mini-games as many times as you wish in one of the many Games Inns.
Should you select Story Mode, most of the game is played as a kind of 16 Bit adventure with the action viewed from an above. This allows for simple navigation using the D-pad and the 'A and B' buttons when prompted. It's simple but effective.
Visually the game is very similar to the book and has managed to maintain both the humor and attention to detail. The only exception to this is the Story Mode interface that allows you to wander from one place to another. This is more structured with everything appearing as a cartoon-inspired Google Earth, with your character, and indeed all the various inhabitants you encounter, chunky cartoon sprites. One aspect the developers have clearly spent sometime on is the overall interface, which is excellent and very easy to navigate even for younger gamers.
The soundtrack is excellent and very reminiscent of one of those 1950's 'Swords and Sandals' epic movies with huge action sequences and just as much drama. In other words, it complements the on-screen action perfectly and, for a change, is actually pleasant to listen to. The sound effects are fine and everyone converses in that kind of garbled, none-descriptive language which developers are so keen on at the moment.
Developers Slitherine have adapted just about every mini-game you could think of and given it stylus control and Roman flavor. This makes for some interesting gameplay so you'll be challenged to simple games such as spot the difference or collecting items, to others that test your observation and quick reactions. You can even do battle with your stylus by utilizing the non-violent tracing over drawings method. If only everything could be solved in this manner. Paint fans will also be pleased to learn that some objectives are achieved by copying paintings with awards given for the percentage of the image covered. Unlike other similar games though, you can go outside of the lines.
It's very difficult not to enjoy Ruthless Romans and the mix of humor, gameplay and true educational value is rarely achieved by games developers. Our only criticism is that younger gamers may struggle with some of the text but should you stop and actually read it, there's a good chance you'll actually learn something and that, after all, is what this game is all about. In fact, you'll have to pick up at least some of the information in the games or you'll fail to pass the various history quizzes. If you happen to be a parent who's becoming a little concerned regarding their child's endless gameplaying, why not get them this, there's a good chance they won't even be aware just how much they are actually learning.
Pro: Lots of History to Read though and Actually Educational, Great Mini-Games
Con: Could Be a Little Too Wordy for Some Gamers
Final score: 8.1