There's been plenty of Star Trek games over the past few years, but the franchise has never appeared on the Nintendo DS. It's understandable that series fans would be excited about Tactical Assault because the platform is a comfortable home for some quality strategy titles. Yet Tactical Assault is not a typical strategy game, and the original design feels fresh when you first start playing. But it's also a one-trick pony, boiling down to the same basic maneuvers and slow-paced combat. It also horribly overlooks its license. You'll deal with Klingons and Romulans, but the dull story and unrecognizable characters could have been used in any generic intergalactic setting.
It's too bad that the story is dull because there's a good idea at work in Tactical Assault, which is similar to a stripped down version of Starfleet Command. As a starship captain, you need to take multiple systems under consideration when entering battle. Your shield facings are first and foremost, and they are represented by arcs that circle the ship. As your opponent whittles away at your shields, rotating your ship is key in avoiding damage. You'll also want to aim for your enemy's vulnerable openings. Then, there's the issue of weapons. Each ship has two weapon types, which are mounted in various locations. Weapons have a specific firing arc, so your enemy must be within firing range of that weapon. They also have a charge-up time, so you can't just continually fire at your foes from a single stance.
The battles are a dance between you and your opponents as you maneuver your ship so that your strongest shields face your enemy while simultaneously positioning your active weapons so they can fire. For a while, it creates an interesting and methodical tug-of-war. As you progress from mission to mission, you earn new ships with more layers of shields and different weapon placements. You'll also earn upgrade points that you use to level up officers, so you can increase ship speed, weapon effectiveness, and more. There's an emergency power bar to watch too. If you hold the R button while moving or attacking, your action is more effective. Although it depletes some energy from your power bar, it does slowly replenish over time.
It sounds complex, but it's quite simple in practice. You essentially fire your available weapons, turn your ship so that another batch of weapons faces your enemy, fire those weapons, and repeat, ad nauseam. Even with the addition of temporary ability boosts, cloaking, and officer upgrades, it gets predictable really fast. You can scan objects or hail other ships outside of combat, but these abilities don't do anything aside from move the story along.
That is, if you can call it a story. It just boils down to a bunch of disjointed missions that recycle elements from the original Star Trek series. The Klingons hate the Federation. They infiltrate the Neutral Zone and disrupt current peace talks. The Romulans are somehow involved. The basic-beyond-belief plot might be more satisfying if you got to lead Captain Kirk into battle, but you're stuck with an unfamiliar cast original to the game. The ships and races are all that make the franchise recognizable. It's almost as if Bethesda Softworks slapped the license on a generic space game that was already in development. Aside from affecting your end-mission rating, the multiple choice endings offered with some missions don't extend beyond the mission or significantly alter the gameplay. We do, however, give props to the Klingon-language option. This option replaces the English text in the Klingon campaign with the native tongue.