Strategy games have really secured a place in iOS gamers hearts over the years. Games like StarFront Collision, The Settlers, Civilian Revolution, Red Conquest, Land Air Sea Warfare, Ravenmark, and many more, including ports from other consoles, and old PC games (Ascendancy, Z, War Of The Lions, and more recently, Imperium Galactica II come to mind). Something that doesn’t happen enough is titles coming to the iOS that are slated for release on other platforms. Amoebattle, from Intrinsic Games (who was picked up by Grab Games in 2011), a 5 man development group who’s first game, Divergent Shift, a DSiWare title, was published by Konami. Since then, they’ve released Penguin Patrol in the AppStore, as well as this most recent title, Amoebattle, built by 3 of 5 members of the development team, from the ground up, which is also slated for DSiWare later in the year.
The first thing that really stuck me when starting up Amoebattle was the insane amount of polish. Generally when it comes to Strategy games, players don’t rely too heavily on the graphics aspect of the genre. However, there are some titles which go above and beyond in this area, Amoebattle happens to be one of them. The beautiful environments and wonderful character design as well as the animations, are all enhanced by the fantastic BGM. Putting that together with the spot on controls, and Amoebattle is almost the perfect RTS package. The only thing missing? Multiplayer or Skirmish Modes. As of now, there’s only a Campaign Mode.
Thankfully, it’s a pretty hefty Campaign, featuring 12 missions that stretch out to between 8 and 10 hours of gameplay, each having numerous quests. The goal in the Campaign is to lead your group of amoebas through different areas to defend against a spreading infection. This infection is taking over other amoebas, and threatening your entire amoeba world. As you progress through the missions, you’ll be able to collect DNA and use it to transform your own amoebas into stronger, faster beings, each having their own strengths and weaknesses. With a total of 9 different creatures, this adds quite a bit of strategy to the already strategic heavy gameplay.
As you explore the environments, you’ll also be able to harvest energy, and use the environment to grow your little amoeba army. Certain areas on the maps will give you boosts, like patches of grass that increases your herbivore’s attacks, goo-like areas that act as a one way mirror so that you can sneak up on the enemy, or get away from them with ease, different goo which lets you replicate quicker, and more.
Each of the different amoebas have different ways of raising their feeding gauges, like eating the plant-life, or destroying enemies, but once these gauges are filled, a little smiley face appears next to your amoeba. When in this state, your amoeba can either stay full, and have stronger attacks, or you can use the energy to replicate yourself. This will be essential in progressing throughout the missions. You’ll also need to be careful when you choose to replicate, because when in the cocoon-like state, your creature is incredibly vulnerable. So replicating mid-battle is a surefire way to kill off your clan.
Also helping out with the enemies are probes. With these, you can greatly turn the tide, using them to gather resources, which you can then use to morph your amoebas, as well as use other probes, like the Cryoprobe, which lets you slow down your enemies significantly for a short period of time. You’ll unlock these as you progress throughout the game, and they can turn out to be life-savers in tough situations.
The controls in Amoebattle are perfect. You can choose one of two control schemes, the first has you using one finger to select amoebas, two fingers to move the camera, and drawing a line towards your enemies to attack. The second control set-up uses one finger to move the camera, two fingers to select amoebas, and has you hold down on enemies to attack. You can also choose to have the camera control inverted, tap to move or tap to attack, and change the camera sensitivity. Along with this, you’ll have a HUD which you can use to select and un-select all of your amoebas, divide them into groups either by tapping to select or drawing any kind of shape around the amoebas you want to select, and then assigning them a quick tab number, which you can also use by double tapping to quick jump to the group, use the small level map to quick jump to areas, and control your replication, and power-ups. It might sound a little confusing, but the controls kind of reminded me of StarFront, which is a very good thing. The only control mechanic missing, and that I constantly found myself wishing was included in the game, was being able to use two fingers to zoom in and out of your main gameplay area. There were many times when I was against the edges of levels, and wound up de-selecting amoebas, triggering a power-up, or replicating because an area I was trying to reach, my amoebas, or the enemies, were right under the HUD Icons. Being able to zoom in and out would have greatly helped with this.
The developers have said that the next major feature they would like to add is a Skirmish Mode, and that the game is already balanced for Multiplayer, and that they’re hoping to get that in. Either way, one of the two would be a fantastic addition, as Multiplayer and Skirmish Modes are a huge reason fans of the genre end up purchasing titles. Amoebattle is priced at $4.99, is Universal, supports the new iPad Retina display, which is fantastic, as the graphics in Amoebattle are definitely a highlight for the game, and make it a title to show off to friends. There’s also GameCenter support with 27 VERY challenging achievements, which add a surprising amount of replay value to an RTS Campaign Mode. For the price, Amoebattle is a great buy. It’s definitely one of the most polished, and well designed RTS games I’ve ever played, on any platform/console. If you’re a fan of the genre, and don’t mind waiting a bit for an extra mode, be it Skirmish or MP, Amoebattle is a title you need to snag. I can’t wait to see where the developers take this game with updates. It could very well wind up being one of the top 3 best RTS games for the iDevice.
Casual arcade games are kind of a staple of the AppStore. Easy to learn, easy to control, hard to master, score chasing titles have the possibility of drawing every type of gamer in. However, because of their crazy popularity, it’s fairly hard to find titles that stick out, and offer interesting and addictive gameplay. SunTownship, a 4 person development group based in China, has just released Mech Guardian, a title offering just that; interesting, addictive gameplay that stands out in a sea of titles. Great mechanics, enough challenge to keep hardcore gamers hooked while still remaining approachable for casual gamers, fantastic graphics, and a high-score chase that always leaves you with that ‘one more go’ desire.
The premise is simple. Use your mechanical creature to keep a body of water full of polluting robo-creatures clean for as long as you can by skimming across the top of the water, and using a claw to reach down and snag the ‘enemies.’ As you collect enemies, and raise your score, you progress through levels, with each level releasing more of the robotic sea creatures. So long as you can collect the creatures before they spew out their exhaust, polluting the water, you’ll be able to continue playing, raising your score, and quickly reaching more challenging levels. The enemies do warn you before they pollute the water, by having a red light on their backs start blinking and then blink faster and faster until they dump their waste.
There are quite a few different enemies, each with different swimming patterns, swimming speeds, sizes, as well as scores. There are also some enemies which you can not grab unless you activate a short term big claw power-up. This power-up allows you to grab any and all of the creatures in the water, as well as not having to worry about the size of the enemies slowing your claw down. It can also reach a little bit further, so you won’t have to move all the way over to the left side of the screen to grab an enemy that’s down towards the bottom of the water. Along with the super claw, there’s also a speed power-up, and bombs which are all collectible as orbs, and mixed in with the sea creatures. You’re also able to get a couple of these power-ups free every 24 hours in the game’s store.
The controls in Mech Guardian might seem a bit confusing at first, but after the first game, they’re pretty easy to get. Tilting your device will move your guardian across the top of the screen, while a gauge at the bottom of the screen lets you control your claw movement. It might have been a little easier to get comfortable with if the claw control was put in up-side-down, as the lower half of a circle, but it’s not too bad as is. To shoot your claw down, there’s a button on the movement gauge, and all you need to do is tap it. For the power-ups, there’s 3 buttons on the left side of the screen, each with a picture next to it of the power-up they represent.
The graphics and music are fantastic, making this score chasing arcade game pretty immersive, especially with headphones. The almost steam punk styled graphics are nice and crisp, and with Mech Guardian being Universal, they look great on both the iPod and iPad screens. Along with the chilled out ambient type BGM, it creates a sort of bittersweet melancholy atmosphere.
Even though there’s just one mode, and an upgrade shop or something along those lines would have really helped to round out the game. With the price at $1.99, being Universal, supporting GameCenter with a leader board and 16 hard to snag achievements helping to add to the replay value, all pilled on top of the fantastic, high-quality gameplay, makes Mech Guardian very easy to recommend. SunTownship has definitely provided a top notch gaming experience, and I can’t wait to see what they bring to the table in the future. If you’re a fan of the genre, this is definitely a title you should squeeze into that folder of great arcade games that will be locked on your device for a long time.
With the insane amount of physics puzzlers in the AppStore, I generally wind up staying away from most of them. There’s very few that look like they incorporate some sort of new mechanic, but then after watching a gameplay video or trailer for the game, it usually winds up looking like just another brick in the wall, and it’s hard to get excited about something you feel like you’ve played a hundred times before. I felt the same way about Pebble Universe when taking a quick glance at the screen shots, but then saw a gameplay video, and was instantly intrigued. It seems the two man studio out of Sweden, Itatake.com, had something very special planned for their first foray into the iOS gaming world.
Unlike most other physics puzzlers, timing is very important in Pebble Universe. To progress through each of the 50 levels, you’ll need to time collisions between rocks just perfectly. In each stage, there’s a group of monsters, and to complete the level, you’ll need to destroy the monster king (the monster wearing a crown). To do this, you’re given a certain amount of little rock creatures to tap on, letting them roll down hills, or flinging them across the stage using fans, and crashing them into each other. Once they hit each other, they explode, raining bits of rock onto the monsters. Each monster that is hit with a piece of the rock creatures explodes, sending their horns, and eyeballs flying all over the level. If these bits and pieces of the monsters come into contact with another monster, that monster explodes, sometimes causing a huge chain reaction. If you hit the monster king before all of the other monsters, you’re docked points. The goal in each stage is to do this using as few rock creatures as you can.
As you make your way through the game, you’ll unlock different types of rock creatures. Some of which have bigger explosions, others send their exploded pieces straight up, while others have all of their pieces only fall downwards. Each one having a pretty big influence on how you’ll go about completing each of the levels. Also thrown into the mix are monsters that move around the environment, making the timing of the rock creature collisions even more important.
Of course, in all physics puzzlers, the physics are very important. In Pebble Universe, Itatake.com has done an amazing job getting the physics mechanics just right. The inertia of each object when it flies off of cliffs, or bounces off of something else, the angles of everything flying through the air after an explosion, the speed and general weight ‘feeling’ of everything is perfect. Even in the case of fans that only blow the bits of rock another direction after exploding have the look of real weight. It’s very clear that a lot of thought, research, effort, and work has gone into making the physics of Pebble Universe act and feel just right.
However, no matter how great the physics act and feel, it’s still kind of hard to actually get the game right without a lot of trial and error. Granted, a lot of great games come with that aspect, but even by the end of the second world, I felt that if the third world was included with this 1.0.1 build of the game, that I still wouldn’t be able to dive right in, and know exactly when to let pebbles go based on the level designs, rock physics, collection of pebbles, inclusion of fans, and moving monsters. There would still be quite a bit of trial and error involved, and I know there’s gamers out there that tend to shy away from that type of gameplay. But if you’re fine with, or even looking for a game that will have you playing a level once to learn it, again to get the timing right, and then a third time to try and max your score, Pebble Universe is a great game to check out. The satisfaction in seeing the chain reaction of monsters being set off is well worth the extra effort. And with the great physics, and movement of everything in the levels, there’s not just one specific solution for each of the levels. If you’re creative, chances are you’ll be able to have a blast with the game, while climbing the leader boards.
Sealing the deal are top notch graphics available in native resolution on both the iPhone and iPad, taking advantage of Universal support. Accompanying the great graphics, you’ll be able to track your scores through GameCenter, with Pebble Universe having 4 different leader boards, one for each of the 2 worlds, a total score leader board, and another separate board for the 6 extra bonus levels which can be unlocked while playing the game by hitting flowers that are set up in extra challenging positions. There are no achievements, but that doesn’t really hurt the replay value, with it being pretty challenging to hit all of the monsters in each of the levels, as well as unlocking all of the bonus levels. There’s also another world being worked on ATM, as well as an Android version (so those of you hybrid iPod/Android users out there – be sure and check it out in the Android market soon). With the price set at only $0.99, it’s very easy to recommend, and the high production values and unique gameplay make it even easier to add to our must-buy list.