Developed By: Image & Form Games
Published By: Thunderful Publishing
Category: Real-Time Tower Defense
Release Date: 10.24.2019
Anthill is a real-time strategy game in which you use tower defense mechanics to gather resources and defend your colony. Developed by the team at Image & Form Games prior to the booming success of the SteamWorld series, this title uses actual ant behavior as a mechanic. Now making its debut on Nintendo Switch this game offers a unique experience that can only be played in handheld mode, so that needs to be kept in mind for those who prefer other ways to play. With different modes and improvements from the original mobile release you have a lot to look forward to in this one. Time for pint-sized combat of the largest magnitude!
You oversee directing the workers and warriors of a colony of ants that is under the rule of the Queen. As you progress through the stages you will progress into deeper mechanics and harder levels, all while working towards the overall mission of defending the Queen’s empire. The story is fairly light, as you are overall just playing through stages for the gameplay, but you have a similar structure to the story you might picture in other colony-building strategy games: Expand, defend, and win.
Stages offer various maps in with which you will work in, all of which have the same final goal of defending the colony from intruders while garnering the highest score possible. Score is increased through defeated enemies, food gathered, as well as special treasures claimed throughout the maps. This score gives you a final tally out of a differing number of stars to allow for some replay ability and high score achievement. A pretty rudimentary system for calculating how well you did, but one that is easy to understand and allows you to work towards improving.
The actual meat and potatoes of this title comes in the combat and gathering that you will be doing. You have a colony with which you will be working out of, and you will direct your ants to move out of the colony for either defense, or to move towards resources. This is done by drawing pheromone lines that create a path of travel for the types of ants. Selecting which ant will travel the line determines what happens along the line. This is where you get into tower defense mode, as the line marked with warrior ants creates a barrier of fighters that will attack any incoming bugs that dare to threaten the colony. From there, you can also drag a line of worker ants through the carnage left behind to have them gather up the remains for food for the colony. This increases your food stores, allowing for the production of additional ants. Food can also be throughout the map ready for gathering at the get-go, but either way getting your workers out there is the only way to increase production and safety. This offers a rewarding gameplay loop that demands a lot of attention and on-the-fly re-routing as everything is happening in real-time with a short sequence from wave to wave. Stages go faster than I would like, as I am a perfectionist when it comes to map clearing, but this game requires speed, proper allocation of resources, and quick wits.
Gems can be collected from stage to stage in order to increase final score, and they can bring in quite a haul, so anyone looking to max out potential point value will want to prioritize these quickly as it is easy to run out of time while preparing your horde.
Beyond the traditional fighter ants who take combat into close quarters, you also have a bomber ant that has you tapping the screen to direct them through bombing runs, as well as stationary shooter ants who attack from afar. Although the bomber ants aren’t all that fun to use as they detract from the whole point of tower defense, which is lots of activity and multi-tasking, the shooter ants allow for a ton of customization to defensive strategy and routing for your ground ants. Shooter ants aren’t unlocked until later in the game, but increase the overall fun factor by a lot, just as things begin to get monotonous.
All of these ants can be upgraded by way of spending the stars you are earning from stage to stage. Increasing things like carry weight for the workers or damage output for your fighters allow you to get more for less from a resource allocation perspective, so getting these upgrades in place quickly is a must. Very simple structure to the upgrades, but something that feels like a necessary depth builder to a title that is a little light otherwise.
Art style is a bit cartoon-esque with googly-eyed ants and enemy bugs running about the map, as well as militarized ants in the dialogue sections. Brighter colors and a pseudo-realistic feel to the environments allows for a good base to play in. This title features an all new soundtrack compared to the original, and it pairs well with the gameplay.
Overall, Anthill is a solid real-time tower defense title, that still has the feel of its mobile roots. Although the move to restrict this title to handheld mode makes sense with the quick gameplay and on-the-fly changes that must be made, it retains the mobile game feel. That isn’t inherently a bad thing, but for some it will be a potential turn-off. Otherwise you have a lot of positives, from the fun and intuitive gameplay, to its unique premise, to the simplicity it offers. On the flip side, you have a serious lack of depth that takes away from the game’s strategy elements, a rudimentary upgrade system, and an art style that doesn’t do a ton to add to the flavor. I would recommend this one for anyone who is a super fan of tower defense games as the premise is too unique to pass up, but for anyone else I would say you shouldn’t look at this title with the same acclaim as the SteamWorld series has garnered for itself. There is a reason SteamWorld Tower Defense went on to bloom into one of the most beloved indie series of all time and Anthill ended after this single iteration.
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*The Switch Effect was provided a code for this game*