Amoebattle is Intrinsic Games’ latest DSiWare title, and it couldn’t be any more different than their previous release, puzzle platformer Divergent Shift. Amoebattle is a real time strategy game, though the epic battles here are waged not by bloody warmongers but by the tiny, squishy amoeba inhabitants of a colourful world. Age of Empires it ain’t. Cubed3 was given pre-release access to four of Amoebattle’s missions, each of which showed off a different play style and some of the numerous tools on offer.
If you don’t know your forams from your flagellates, worry not. Despite the scientific inspirations, Amoebattle treats its subject matter lightly; each amoeba has been given an accessible name and design, such as the Shark that, unsurprisingly, looks like a shark. The friendly face of robot AMI is also on hand to deliver instructions and gameplay advice (which can be recalled whenever you like by pressing Select), and humour plays a large role in making a genre that can, traditionally, be quite heavy easier to get to grips with, with plenty of tongue-in-cheek science references and playful jabs.
The top screen is AMI’s home, but it also displays any statistics, mission objectives and a mini-map for easy access. Selecting an amoeba brings up their profile, which tells of any special abilities that species might have, their attack power, energy requirements for mutation or duplication and their current health points (HP) and food points (FP). Each profile’s background colour also lets you know which of the three core groups that species belongs to: red is for carnivores, green for herbivores, blue for omnivores.
These groups influence how Amoebattle’s amoebae operate on the battle field. Carnivores are invisible until up close to their prey, regaining FP and HP through fighting, while herbivores and the speedier omnivores can happily feast upon algae to restore their FP. If an amoeba gains enough FP, a small smiley emoticon floats above them, alongside mini-HP/FP bars, to indicate that they’re well fed. It’s extremely beneficial to keep your cell sidekicks full up, as in this state they gain a 20% power boost...and can also split off into new units.
Duplication is key to keeping your troop levels up, but it’s only possible when you have enough ACS energy stored up, and even then you are only allowed up to 25 amoebae at a time. Though your cells can be replicated during battle, it is prevented from becoming an over-powered mechanic by the short delay period. New amoebae are immobilised, defenceless, in easily destructible Cyst pods for a few seconds before splitting off into usable units - the further away from enemies you mix it up with some mitosis, the better. ACS energy restores gradually automatically, which is a good job as it is also needed to mutate amoebae into different species and to activate probes; in the demo it was possible to use these to gather intel and to temporarily freeze on-coming threats to give a little breathing room.
Smooth controls ensure that everything works as it should, and Intrinsic Games have piled in tons of ways to micromanage your microorganisms. Areas can be scrolled around with the touch-screen alone or by using the D-pad or face buttons, while basic unit selection is a cinch: click a single unit and it’s under control, or draw a shape around multiple cells and they’re ready to go. Single units can be deselected or added to the selection by holding the stylus down on them for a split-second. Want to charge forward with a single amoeba type? Just double-tap an example of that species to instantly select them all. If that’s not enough, you can press a shoulder button to slide in extra options - a button to grab every single amoeba at once, or assign units to custom groups. This drop down menu also hosts the mutation and duplication buttons. Handily, you can use the menu to flip the map down to the touch-screen, letting you swiftly skip to the exact area that you want before hurling the map back up top. Moving and attacking is as simple as tapping an area or foe, though gestures can also specify different strike patterns; drawing a line through a group of antagonistic amoebae will send your forces darting straight for the first available target.