Amoebattle is an RTS game from the creator of Divergent Shift that that pits your amoeba army against the CPU across twelve single player missions.
You are the commander of an amoeba army, out to protect amoeba life by fighting back the ever-growing infected amoeba army. Assisting you is an AI known as AMI who provides you with mission details before and during battle, and who also explains how to play the game. Amoebattle does a nice job of introducing new gameplay mechanics and amoeba-types as you progress through the campaign, which is the only included mode. RTS purists may fret at the lack of multiplayer, skirmish, or a level editor, but keep in mind this is a $5 DSiware (and iOS) game that was made by a very small and dedicated developer.
Starting Amoebattle is a snap, and within moments you're right in the mix of battle. AMI gives you some quick tips at the outset, but many of her later tips and tutorials are optional, although for as succinct and well-integrated as they are, there's no reason to skip any of them. Some of the very first pointers you will learn are the controls, which are pleasantly simple. The d-pad, left stick, and face buttons can all be used to pan around the environment; I found the left stick to be the most convenient and reliable. Pressing L and R reveals the control panel -- you can either hold L or R and make your selections with the stylus, or toggle it by double-tapping L or R. Moving your amoeba warriors on screen and giving them orders is all tap-based: to move one or more units, select them individually, draw a perimeter around them, or use their previously-assigned group number and then tap to have them move or attack. That's all there is to the controls, but the mechanics and strategies are considerably deeper.
The control panel I referred to a moment ago is quite important. You have a lot of options here, including selecting all of your units with a single tap, which is useful for getting them all moving or attacking in the same location. You can also assign and select between up to four different groups, a classic RTS mechanic that you must use to succeed. You can flip the top and bottom screens with a tap, which brings the mini-map to the touch screen so that you can quickly move units across a great distance instead of panning the camera over. Individual unit controls are located here as well, so that you can issue replicate and mutate commands. As the campaign goes on, AMI provides you with new capabilities like dropping a harvesting probe on mitochondria and a snowflake icon that causes enemy actions to slow down in a targeted area for a brief period.
The top screen keeps itself busy too, with AMI, the current objective, the mini-map, available ACS (i.e., currency), and individual unit stats. ACS is like an activation energy -- you need ACS to be able to use abilities like the freezing power-up or to mutate an amoeba. Units have their own stats too, such as their HP and their FP. FP is a measure of the amount of food consumed, either from certain objects in the environment or from enemies eaten. It's not really an XP measurement, but when it's full, you can select the unit and do something special with them, like replicate or mutate to a different amoeba. The game begins with the most basic amoeba type, whose special feature is just the ability to replicate quickly. This is useful for starter missions, but their relatively weak melee attacks make the Locusts less useful later on. New amoeba are acquired by defeating them and having AMI study their DNA and genome. Other amoeba types include Sharks, Wasps, Vipers, and Stingrays, there are nine in all, and each has their own unique strengths.
Amoebattle is not like a traditional, PC-based RTS where you build a base or two and hunker down while harvesting resources and building up a mobile force. Instead, you are always on the move, unveiling the fog of war by moving through three different environment types. Since you don't have a "barracks" to create new units from, a big part of the strategy is replicating properly. Balancing replication needs with having the right amoeba for the job is a vital part of Amoebattle. It's a core gameplay element because both actions require a lot of resources in the grand scheme -- you need ACS and full FP, and no matter which you choose, the unit is vulnerable during the transition phase. Amoebattle is deceptively easy for the first three or four missions, after which you really have to start paying extra close attention to your ACS and decisions in general. Thankfully, you can save your progress anytime (and there are three save slots), which is essential as missions take anywhere from ten to thirty minutes, and there's almost always a secondary objective or two that is made known after you complete the initial one.
Good controls, clear mission guidelines, a nice HUD, and changing gameplay mechanics are all positives. On the flip side, the change in difficulty around the halfway point felt too sudden. Thankfully there are those use-anytime save slots, just don't forget to use them. Failure can come rapidly if you either don't have enough units or have mutated too many into the "wrong" type. Many objectives require that you split up your forces or protect items for a certain amount of time. Combined with the time it takes to replicate or mutate, which takes that unit out of action for several seconds (and makes them extremely vulnerable), the balancing act walks a fine line between rewarding and frustrating. Then again, I've never been an awesome RTS player, so RTS vets may not see the difficult spike like as I did.
Beyond that, the presentation quality is mixed. Visually, Amoebattle is colorful with good animation and framerates stay smooth the vast majority of the time. I did have a situation with about forty amoeba on screen (all of mine and over a dozen CPU) where panning the camera was very slow over that immediate area, but this instances are rare and brief. Sound effects are ok, and I like the soundtrack other than a persistent technical issue with it. The soundtrack seems to suffer from bad compression, which was done to reduce the size of the game I suppose, I'm not sure. It's a shame though, as the tracks themselves are well done and fitting, but the technical quality makes them less enjoyable to listen to. Worst case, you can play the game muted, and thanks to AMI and the on screen cues, it's still very playable.
With that, let's get to the summary.