[Review] Anthill – Nintendo Switch

Written by Richard Strachan
  • Developer: Image and Form
  • Publisher: Thunderful
  • Release date: 24/10/2019
  • Price: £8.99 / $9.99
  • Review code provided by Thunderful

Intro

Nintendo fans who enjoy commanding an army of tiny creatures across a beautiful garden landscape have finally had their wish granted. For those of you thinking Captain Olimar has made his long awaited return, settle down. Instead we have the release of Anthill on Switch, from Steamworld series developer Image and Form.

Anthill was originally released on mobile platforms in 2011, before a surprise port to Switch this year. Despite its age, the usual Image and Form magic is well and truly present here, showing they have a pedigree which goes way back. The game itself predates the first Steamworld Dig game by two years!

Commant and Conquer

Anthill is an interesting blend between a Real Time Strategy game and a Tower Defence game, which is played completely with the Switch’s touch screen. Any attempt to play the game docked results in an error message. When you get down to playing, it’s immediately apparent that touch screen controls are the right choice.

You control a small army of ants, with four units available. You have access to a humble worker ant whose role is focused on collecting supplies for your army in the form of food and gems which can increase your score. Food can be found around the levels in the form of leaves and can also be earned by carrying the bodies of enemies back to your anthill.

You also have four combat options each with a different focus, including a soldier ant who focuses on close range melee combat, a spitter, which is essentially a ranged unit and functions well as an anti air unit and a buzzer, which is your aerial bomber. 

You might think this seems a fairly limited number of units, compared to traditional RTS games, but each of the units can be upgraded and used in a variety of ways to allow for a fair bit of tactical nuance. You control your forces by drawing lines representing pheromone trails, before assigning a particular type of unit to patrol that route. You can have multiple routes for each type of unit, but they can end up spread too thinly if you don’t build enough of each. More of each unit can be built at the cost of a small amount of food, which varies depending on the unit.

The general flow of each game tends to revolve around identifying a food source and capturing that, before building your army to defend the onslaught of attacks on your anthill, which serves as your base. As the anthill is attacked, its life meter is depleted and once that reaches zero, it’s game over. The early game stage tends to revolve around a mad dash to gather resources whilst maintaining a small defence force to fight off the initial waves. This can generally be quite tense as you work to juggle between building enough workers to sustain your force, whilst ensuring you have enough military might to fend off attackers.

Swat’s on offer?

Each of the levels in the game presents a slightly different scenario, including some with a sudden onslaught of boss type insects approaching. These tend to be units which have a specific function such as a long-range artillery unit, which can wipe out your entire base and most of your force with it if you don’t react quickly.

Some of the scenarios can be pretty challenging, with one standing out where I was immediately rushed by a huge number of enemies before I had the chance to amass any kind of force. These desperate moments of improvisation are where the game really shines! This comes across especially well in the infinity mode, which presents a randomised challenge and tasks you with surviving as long as possible against ever increasing waves of enemies. Infinity mode gives an added layer of strategy with the introduction of dirt piles throughout the maps which can be collected to rebuild your anthill, repairing any damage it has suffered. Infinity mode presents you with a high score but provides no way to compare each attempt against previous ones or any online leaderboard functionality, which is a shame.

The game looks and sounds gorgeous, with some lovely ambient garden sounds proving a relaxing backdrop to your battles. Simple memorable melodies make up the small, but effective soundtrack. The game uses a cartoony art style which allows for some nice detail in the garden environments the game takes place in. This allows for lots of character with each of the units and enemies and makes it very easy to keep track of the action even during huge battles.

Antastic!

Anthill is a blast to play and shows that Image and Form really can master any genre. The Steamworld games show they can turn their hand to platformers, card games, RPGsand turn based strategy, but Anthill shows they can do an amazing job with an RTS/Tower defense hybrid.

There’s enough in the game to keep you coming back, with each level awarding a number of stars based on your performance. These stars can be spent on upgrading your units and adding new abilities. Getting all the stars on some levels was very challenging, but being able to re-run those scenarios with upgraded units made things more manageable and added a fun sense of progression. Returning to earlier battles to find you could smash the enemy was extremely satisfying.

Pros

  • Touch screen controls are perfect
  • Endless replay ability with infinity mode
  • Easy to pick up, unlike most RTS games

Cons

  • Environments can be repetitive
  • Leaderboards are a big miss

Verdict
Anthill is a fun, charming introduction to RTS gameplay. Adults and kids alike will find a lot to love, from the simple but deep gameplay to the gorgeous art style. Image and Form have dug into their back catalogue and given us a burst of joy that manages to feel fresh and modern and I thoroughly recommend it!

4.5/5

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *