Is this game of divide and conquer worth the download price?
When the DS launched in 2004, one of the frequently mentioned talking points was how the stylus control would finally allow a fully featured real-time strategy game to blossom on a platform besides PC. Unfortunately, many years down the road, this hasn’t quite evolved the way many had hoped and despite a few attempts, the genre is still in its handheld infancy. Amoebattle by Intrinsic Games aims to fill the gap by offering an inexpensive, but expansive, real-time strategy game on the DSiWare service but unfortunately falls a bit short.
The game is split into 12 missions, the first few of which boil down to tutorials. After the tutorial stages, the game gets difficult quickly, so if it’s challenge you want, this game has it in spades. The stages take upwards of an hour apiece depending on how thorough you want to be, which unfortunately doesn’t work well as a portable experience. The campaign is quite beefy for an inexpensive DSiWare game, but the gameplay, unfortunately, is fairly repetitive.
Amoebattle is streamlined for the DS interface, meaning it is a real-time strategy game with no real element of base building or resource gathering. There are many different types of units, but most of them have a similar appearance, which can make it difficult to tell at a glance what types of units are available on screen. With the way the game is designed, it feels like those levels of Warcraft or Command & Conquer where you take a handful of units through a mission and try to keep them alive until the end; unfortunately, that is by far my least favorite type of real-time strategy gameplay. On top of that, you have a hard limit of 25 units at a time, meaning if your favorite strategy is to pile up massive armies, you’re out of luck with Amoebattle. The game handles unit generation via a clever gameplay technique where if your unit is “well fed” and you have enough energy (harvested via in-game generators, or slowly accumulated), you can divide your units to create new ones. It’s a cool technique and unique to the genre.
Also missing is any sort of multiplayer or even a single-player skirmish mode; the only thing available is the campaign. With the campaign as large as it is, that’s not completely unforgivable, but given that I focus almost exclusively on multiplayer or skirmish when I play most real-time strategy games, these modes are very much missed. The campaign itself is extensive, with multiple mission types and an acceptable story, but it won’t blow you away.
The visuals in Amoebattle are nice and colorful, if not memorable. The unfortunate reality of choosing amoebas as your unit type, along with the biotic-themed stages, is that none of the art in the game has any real-world distinction. After a while, it all blends together; you’ll see lots of blues, some yellows, purples, and oranges, but it’s hard to get attached to units that are basically blobs. The sound is equally unmemorable; while the music is soothing, it’s also heavily compressed and hard to listen to. If you mute the game, however, you will miss out on audible warnings indicating attack. These would be better suited as on-screen warnings, as many people (myself included) play portable games without sound.
Although Amoebattle fills a bit of a gap in the DS library by being one of the few competent real-time strategy games on the system, and although it's certainly a strong title in comparison to many other DSiWare games, it falls just short of being a title of easy recommendation. Those looking for any sort of multiplayer battle or variation in the gameplay will find that Amoebattle doesn't quite fit the bill. The one thing it does, it does fairly well, but you'll likely find yourself done with the game long before the end of the 10+ hour campaign.