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Amoebattle on iOS lets you divide, then conquer

6:00 PM on 04.09.2012
Amoebattle on iOS lets you divide, then conquer photo

I'm firmly convinced that the Retina display on the new iPad 3 is a gamechanger, but it's going to take a while for games designed to work with the new resolution to become common. Many current apps are still waiting for an update to take advantage of the increased resolution, and at this point not very many new games are providing Retina assets.

One recently released game, Amoebattle from Grab Games (universal app, $4.99), had the Retina assets included right out the gate. Amoebattle takes full advantage of the Retina display, featuring beautiful maps and detailed units. The art style is fairly unique, with pixel art being used for the units while the maps almost look like they're watercolor paintings. If you've been looking for a real time strategy game for your brand new iPad (or iPhone, or iPod Touch), I'd suggest giving Amoebattle a try.

Amoebattle takes a somewhat simplified approach into the real-time strategy genre, but don't think that simplified means easy. If you've played any RTS like StarCraft or Warcraft, you'll understand the basics of Amoebattle. You select, group, and control individual units as they make their way through the twelve levels available in the game, each with its own objective. While some maps have the standard "eliminate all enemies" as a goal, others have you defending various structures from assault, or exploring the map to locate certain units or objects.

Units are created not through buildings and production, but through mitosis. There are three general classes of amoebas -- herbivores, carnivores, and omnivores, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, and nine unique units. As your units defeat enemies (or find algae plants scattered around the map), they gain Food Points. When their food meter is filled, the unit can split in two, giving you an identical new unit. You can also evolve a unit, changing it to any unit type you currently have access to. All forms of unit creation cost energy, a resource that slowly replenishes over time (although there are ways to speed it up), and you can only have a maximum of 25 units at any given time.

Controlling your units is relatively simple. You can tap individual units to select them, draw circles around groups to select multiple units, or tap and hold on a unit it to add it to an already existing group. You can also save groups in one of four preset slots, allowing you quickly tap an on-screen button to select a group of your units -- critical in levels where enemies attack you from multiple directions simultaneously. Tapping moves your units, and drawing a line to a location serves as an attack-move command. Combat is mostly handled by the AI -- you just select your targets and your units will attack them.

Control is, for the most part, smooth, although I did find myself struggling a bit when I had to split my units into multiple parties. When you have separate groups of units assigned to presets and are quickly switching between them, it's very easy to get things jumbled up when trying to add new units to existing groups.

You'll also need to utilize a variety of probes that are available to you. These cost energy to summon, and essentially serve as support items. One probe will freeze all enemies that step near it, dramatically slowing them. Another can be placed on algae to increase the rate of your energy regeneration.

Make no mistake -- Amoebattle may sound relatively simple, but it's quite a challenge. On many of the levels, one small mistake can mean defeat. The game never feels unfairly difficult, but those who are not already RTS veterans will likely find themselves failing a few times on most of the later levels before they're able to pass it.

The main campaign should probably take the average player around 10 hours to complete. Each level also has an achievement from Game Center tied to it, almost all of which up the difficulty significantly. Surprisingly, no multiplayer mode is currently available for the game, although the developers have said they'd like to add one. Even without the multiplayer, though, Amoebattle should keep RTS fans entertained for quite a while.

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