At the dawn of this year 2012, I came into the 21st century by purchasing a handheld device with real internet capabilities: a Nintendo 3DS. Four months later, I have completed all the good games that have been released for this system. So now I continue to celebrate my purchase of this impressive piece of 3D technology by buying DSiWare games. This is where Amoebattle comes in.
GAME NAME: Amoebattle
DEVELOPER(S): Grab Games, LCC
PUBLISHER(S): Intrinsic Games
PLATFORM(S): 3DS, DSi, DSi XL, iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch
GENRE(S): RTS, Strategy
RELEASE DATE(S): May 3, 2012
As someone who is new to the whole cheap downloadable Indie game scene, I find that the most difficult thing about it is wading through the thousands of available five-dollar games to locate the ones that are more fun than games I can play for free on the Internet. Amoebattle caught my eye with those three precious letters: RTS. It had been awhile since I’d played an RTS, and it had been never since I’d played one about microbes on a touch screen for five dollars, so I whipped out the credit card.
Unfortunately, Amoebattle is more like an RT with a lower-case “s.” I say that because there isn’t much strategy to it. I was hoping to relive my days of playing Dune on my Sega – collecting resources for money which I could use to buy buildings that produce troops, and later different buildings to produce different troops before throwing them all at the enemy base and hoping for the best. Amoebattle is a unique kind of RTS, subverting the standards for RTS games by implementing touch-screen mechanics for a whole different style of play. By this, I mean that most of the time you follow a linear path with your microscopic troops and periodically become able to increase your numbers through replication. Then you throw your dudes at groups of enemy dudes and hope for the best.
Most of Amoebattle feels like a tutorial. Not just because you’re learning new things. There’s nothing wrong with introducing new elements of strategy into a game during later levels. The wrong part comes when you make the entire level easy so that the player can get used to this element, and do that for half the game. That’s the kind of thing that makes me feel silly for paying five dollars to play Baby’s First RTS. Thankfully, the last few levels were challenging enough to keep the game going for more than a day. Though some of that challenge did come from the dreaded escort quests.
Due to this lack of challenge, I did not need to use any significant strategy for most of the game. Amoebattle’s strategy element is derived from the different types of amoebas you can have on your team. Herbivores have weaker attacks but stronger defense, and gain the ability to duplicate themselves by eating plant matter than can be found throughout the levels. Carnivores have stronger attacks and weaker defense, and feed on other amoebas by fighting them. Omnivores eat both, have average defense and attack, and for some reason can pass through the weird purple stuff without being slowed down. In addition to replicating your amoebas, you can mutate them into other types. I did this a grand total of one time. And that was only to turn a weaker type of amoeba into the best kind. I never mixed unit types unless the game made me do it.
Amoebattle is more about timing and luck than strategy, so it’s a good thing that your amoebas aren’t too hard to control. The most challenging level was one in which you lost the ability to replicate, and so the only way to bolster your numbers was with a special probe that converts the mindless slave of the enemy into your own mindless slave. This is difficult, as the probe can be easily destroyed by other enemy amoebas and the target must have less than half health. It’s not easy to probe something when you have a group of guys programmed to relentlessly destroy.
The other half of my strategy for that level was to set the 3DS down and watch TV while my troops’ health slowly replenished. It’s not to say that I didn’t derive satisfaction from finally beating the level, but if the best way to win is to not play for extended periods of time, it doesn’t say much for the game.
On the plus side, Amoebattle has a certain charm going for it that can only come from the implementation of a cute robot. The robot functions as the narrator, explaining the game’s story through wordy exclamations of surprise when strange things happen and talking you through the extensive tutorial. This is made entertaining by the robot’s expressions of emotion – lights turning red for anger, eyes doing the rainbow curve shape thing to express joy, and so on. The game even makes a clever move by acting as though the DS has suddenly shut off right after the robot mentions that hacking into the power grid may have had some adverse effects. It was an amusing twist that made up for the escort level just before it.
As for the actual story, it’s a pretty simple affair. It’s a lot like your standard not-so-good vampire movie. Some ancient evil force that everyone though was dead is corrupting innocents to do its evil bidding and the good guys have to stop it by increasing their numbers through asexual reproduction. Move over, Twilight!
Amoebattle marches to the tune of two distinct tracks, both of which are appropriate and inoffensive. The sound effects are generally cute – even the squishing sound that the amoebas make when they die. The visuals are bright and pleasing, with artsy simplicity that gives you something to look at during the replication process and makes it so the game only became slow once when you’re mobbed by an endless hoard of baddies. The only complaint here is that sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between the tiny health meter and the tiny food meter just below it.
It’s a good thing that Amoebattle was fun at the end; otherwise I would be angry about the fact that I paid five dollars to play it. As it is, I only fantasized a little bit about the things I might have bought with those five dollars. Like a cheeseburger, or one of those music-playing cards to send to my mother. The game was cute, and there is something unique about an RTS played entirely on a touch screen. However, I can honestly say that I’ve played better, more unique, and cuter games for free on the Internet.