A touch-screen should work well with real-time strategy games, you know? RTS games require a good overhead view, the ability to quickly flick between units, and a ready batch of hotkeys and functions. The iPad in particular is uniquely suited to do all of those things; it just takes the right game.
Amoebattle, a terrific new iOS strategy title made by Intrinsic Games, is the right game. It has been designed specifically for use on a touchscreen, and it's one of the most enjoyable and well-made examples of the genre I've played on a touchscreen device.
Unit selection, power activation and navigation are all simple and intuitive. Drawing a circle around a group of units to select them feels perfectly intuitive, more-precise mouse be damned. Once you get the hang of the basics, it's simply a breeze to zoom yourself all over the map and manage your large and diverse army.
According to the story, you're a professor working with and studying a number of different amoebae. Really, the high-level story is mostly irrelevant — for all intents and purposes, you're the leader of an army of cute blue amoebae, intent upon doing everything a helpful robot voice says to do. There's a touch of cheeky "science funny" to everything, and it provides just enough of a wrapper to let you quickly get into the game and start playing.
Amoebattle is an intense, fun and deep RTS; it's not some dumbed-down-for-iOS cash-in or port of a PC game. It was clearly made by people who genuinely wanted to make something interesting for the platform, and they've succeeded. It's not quite like any other RTS I've played.
The gist is the same as other RTSes — grow a big army with the right kinds of units for a looming engagement. Mine enough resources that you can expand your army in a balanced way. Deploy them in a manner that makes sense strategically. Kick arse. Rinse and repeat.
Amoebattle is a lovely-looking and -sounding game, with a nice pastel art-style, cute and mostly easily identifiable units (though sometimes they do all blend together), and a friendly, upbeat orchestral soundtrack. The music can make or break a game like this, and the Amoebattle soundtrack is a winner.
True to the game's amoeboid theme, unit development and upgrades take place inside the units themselves. If an amoeba has eaten enough food, it will be able to split and replicate, thereby growing your army. You'll also have to harvest power to grow some types of new units. Planted harvesters make for a more defend-the-base style of play typical to the RTS genre.
Other resources and strategies are also written into the game's "science". Every amoebae is either an herbivore, omnivore or a carnivore, and this affects how they move through the environment and interact with each other. Stats are varied and specific — in short order, you'll be commanding a large and diverse army.
Amoebattle has a wonky difficulty curve. It starts out simple enough, but before long it'll start really whooping you if you don't pay attention and play smart. That was fine by me — I was refreshed by the game's difficulty — but it's much more involved than your average on-the-bus puzzle game, so it might not be to every iOS gamer's taste. In other words, don't let its lovely pastel art and charming soundtrack fool you — Amoebattle is hardcore.
It's also fun. The rhythm and feel of a good RTS are hard to describe, but when they're there, you know it. They are "there" in Amoebattle. It's a smart and well-made game, just the thing for tactics-minded iOS gamers looking for something deep and satisfying to try.
Amoebattle [$5.49, iTunes]