Amoebattle Clashes for RTS Primordial Supremacy
Over the years, various scientific studies have linked playing video games to better brain function. This has to do with the coordination, focus and multitasking involved which stimulates key parts of the mind. One good example is Amoebattle by Grab Games, a real-time strategy (RTS) game that not only provides an entertaining yet challenging experience, but does a terrific job incorporating multi-touch controls. Bolstered by eye-catching artwork and animation and a microscopic storyline that plays bigger than it sounds, Amoebattle may be just what the doctor ordered.
The premise behind Amoebattle centers around waging war on a microscopic level with the overall goal of domination. In this world, we’re talking about germs and bugs fighting over a primordial turf where players are tasked with stopping a spreading infection. Not to worry if you’re not into germs because Amoebattle is more than appealing for the hypochondriacs in all of us.
Before you jump into the game itself, the artwork itself is worth checking out especially on a retina-display iPad or iPhone. Unique in its presentation, the colors and animation by themselves bring the game to life. Each of the twelve missions takes players through 4 highly imaginative environments—Mushroom Forest, Primordial Sea, Lavalands, Final Battle—that successfully make fungus, algae and other microbes intriguing and lively. The serene and melodic soundtrack provides a surprisingly good audio backdrop that subtly yet effectively builds up the intensity within each battle.
In the microscopic world, the name of the game is survival with nourishment and procreation core to success. Fortunately, the controls in Amoebattle are intuitive and a pleasure to use. The control options allow for variations on how to move amoeba troops from tapping to drawing lines. Movement of amoebas in mass can be accomplished by tapping and holding a specific troop or by drawing a circle around a group. Moving a single troop is done by tapping on the specific unit. And, adjusting the camera angle can be done by dragging the screen using one or two fingers.
While directional pads and accelerometer controls have their place in games, line drawing gestures on touch mobile devices has always seemed innovative to me because they involve such a natural and carefree action. In Amoebattle, I found the line drawing gestures extremely useful because again it ties into a person’s instinctive behavior to simply draw, circle and move. While the devs could have installed a d-pad control scheme, I think that would have taken away from the overall experience.
Throughout the game, players are accompanied by an AI assistant named AMI who looks like something you’d find at Toys ‘r Us. For the most part, AMI provides tutorial information, environmental and enemy backgrounds and warnings when warranted, but don’t expect him to wrestle muscle-bound amoebas for you.
The enemies in this tiny world come in three classes—herbivores, carnivores, and omnivores—each with unique attributes and abilities. An added factor is the environmental setting which can provide a significant competitive advantage depending on the enemy. For example, omnivores tend to love the undergrowth, while herbivores seem stronger in the grasslands. Also, the damage inflicted by enemy types varies greatly with some having more long-range capabilities while others like to be up close and personal.
As I mentioned, nourishment and procreation are essential for success. As your little guys attack and destroy enemies, they actually feed on them building up their energy levels. Each microbe has energy and health bars that provides a status update, and there’s a handy procreate button that can instantly double your amoeba forces. Of course, the energy levels gradually regenerate over time and by feeding on algae. Speaking of which, one of the strengths of Amoebattle is the elegant HUD that provides a useful yet uncluttered display of everything you’ll need. From maps and weapons to mission objectives and energy levels, this is one of the better displays I’ve seen.
Two words sum up Amoebattle’s gameplay: challengingly fun. The game doesn’t insult players with trivial or monotonous exercises. Every activity has direct impact to the overall success and failure of the mission. Whether it’s feeding on algae or procreating at just the right time, efforts aren’t wasted. And to keep things balanced, players can only have a maximum of 25 troops at any given time which is a nice touch. So you can’t simply adopt an out-of-control reproduction strategy to advance.
The missions themselves are varied and can range from collecting items to destroying specific enemies. One of the nice things about the HUD is that a running count is constantly in view so there’s no guessing or having to flip back and forth between windows. As more enemies are destroyed, your amoeba armies analyze the DNA which can then be used to mutate your little guys…seriously. This is really a well-developed part of Amoebattle because it becomes a key part of your strategic and tactical planning.
The combat is mostly automated so you simply select troops, point them in the right direction, and they go at it. There is a good degree of micromanagement allowed so players can move and direct groups and individuals as needed. While the line drawing works well, I think it’s probably even more appropriate for smaller screen devices where bigger fingers would otherwise have issues.
GameCenter support is offered as are a number of achievements of varying difficulty. The achievements focus on milestones such as completing missions, minimizing damage to amoeba troops, and even keeping your procreation activities to a minimum.
A drawback with Amoebattle is the absence of a skirmish mode. Currently, the game is limited to twelve-mission campaign, although the difficulty level in the later missions can make them pretty time consuming. Most players regardless of the experience with the RTS genre should get more than enough play from the existing campaign mode. However, for advanced players, the lack of a skirmish may be an issue, although developers have promised this in a future update.
Another minor issue worth noting is that Amoebattle could use a reference section providing backgrounds on the various enemies if not just a general Help section. While the HUD is one of the best, the supporting materials such as a non-existent Help area and the overall menu are bare bones.
Amoebattle is an imaginative RTS that delivers a uniquely engaging and intense experience. The variety of enemies and the level of strategy involved as well as the intuitive control scheme make this a welcome addition to fans of the genre. Along with the impressive artwork and elegant interface, Amoebattle provides more than enough to keep your brain on its toes.
Albie Meter: 4 Stars (imaginative RTS with intuitive controls; line drawing controls tied micromanaging units work well; elegant interface and beautiful graphics and animation; good depth in terms of content; well-balanced campaign-only mode although later missions can be difficult for new players; GameCenter support/achievements; lacks skirmish mode but promised in a future update)