If you told someone a year ago that the iconic Star Wars Battlefront series was coming to the Nintendo DS, you could have expected an incredulous response. "What? One of the most complex, dynamic, and sophisticated game franchises ever to bear the Star Wars name is coming to the most low-fi, low-spec game system on the market? Do you think me a fool? They may as well make Battlefront for the Atari 2600!"
Yet here we are. Battlefront is indeed on the DS, and n-Space has made a valiant attempt to shoe-horn the familiar game elements of the series into the system resources available. The problem is that you're always reminded of these limitations while playing. Elite Squadron doesn't feel like it was made from the ground up for the DS, but more like a larger game that's been run through a trash compactor.
The space combat sequences illustrate this perfectly. Your fighter can move left and right, but not up and down — your freedom of movement has literally been squashed flat. Sure, you can escape from missile locks by doing a barrel roll, Slippy Toad-style. But there's not much more to these zappy dogfights than steering towards the red brackets that highlight enemy ships, and letting rip.
The inclusion of such brackets was the best design decision in the whole production, since it gets around the inescapable problem of detail. All the design work in Star Wars, from Princess Leia's buns through to Jar Jar's googly eyes, was designed to look good at the movies, on a screen as big as a house. Scale it down to a screen the size of a postage stamp, and you're lucky to get a few squiggly dots per clone trooper.
Hence the necessity of an automatic lock-on in the top-down infantry combat sequences. With no need to actually aim at enemies, and big glowing circles spinning around the villain you've currently selected, the only decision left to make is how best to destroy them: blasters, shotguns, and thermal detonator grenades all have their merits.
The single player campaign strings together such skirmishes with crudely handled speeder bike racing stages, talking head cut scenes, and close encounters with famous characters from the films. Every effort has been made to make these events seem epic, but the jagged polygons and chessboard-like bitmaps break the illusion.
The system specs compress the scale of the action even further in multiplayer, with a maximum of four players competing in cramped arenas. Each battle consists of three rounds: a control point-seizing infantry combat stage, an R2 Unit-escorting infantry combat stage, and one of the aforementioned flat-as-a-pancake space dogfights. To varying extents these modes are all simplistic, confused, haphazard, and pointless. None of them are particularly satisfying.
Only the music and sound effects do justice to the source material, though there is no voice — only walls of text explaining why you have to blow up someone or other's reactor core. Palpatine gets in a line or two, but it's just the usual drivel: "Something something something, Dark Side. Something something something, complete..."
They gave it a red-hot go, but all this game really has going for it is its license — and it's not enough.