Image & Form are well known for their brilliant ‘Steamworld’ franchise, but did you know they also dabbled in a mobile device-only title? Anthill was released on both android and iOS back in 2011, a game which was so perfectly suited to touchscreen devices, it never got ported to any other system as the control scheme and ease-of-use would be lost in translation. Sure, a Vita port may have been possible but that handheld is pretty much dead in the water now. However, there is another device you may have heard of which has a touchscreen – the Nintendo Switch.
This is the first game I’ve personally played which can ONLY be played on the Switch in portable mode – making it a perfect game for both the original version and the new Switch Lite. Also, thanks to VOEZ receiving a patch a while ago, this might actually be the ONLY game which can’t be played in docked mode – the game literally refuses to do anything but show you a message telling you to undock it. The move to not incorporate any alternative controls to the game could be seen a lazy by some, but I personally think it was the correct thing to do when you consider what the game is and how it’s played. Also, unlike other similar games which have been ported from Mobile to the Switch (premium, not F2P or Freemium games like Into the Dead 2), the price is rather competitive in comparison and not highly inflated for no reason.
So, let’s take a closer look at the only game which gets even more fun as the number of bugs increases…
You’ve heard of Tower Defense games before, right?! They’re games with waves of enemies heading towards your base, increasingly getting more and more difficult or advanced as they introduce stronger enemies and different classes such as flying or armoured ones. Your job is to place towers along the path so that they can take down your foes before they reach their goal and begin to destroy it. A recent example of this type of game is PixelJunk Monsters 2, a game which I loved for its gorgeous art direction and challenging gameplay.
Why am I talking about Tower Defense? Well, Anthill is known as a Trail Defense game (yeah, I’d not heard of it either before playing the game). The concept is almost the same as a Tower Defense game, you have a base (your anthill) and you have to protect it by defending it with various units which have different roles which help out in their own way. The main difference is that you aren’t placing towers, you’re drawing trails with your finger and then assigning a unit type to that particular path.
The mechanics may sound simple (or confusing, I found it confusing at first), but Anthill is a bloody hard game and very challenging. It’s a game which requires you to both think and act fast if you wish to come out of the fight alive. Otherwise, if you’re too slow or you take your eyes off your precious Worker ants for a few seconds, you could end up losing your only food gathers and ultimately forfeit the round. There’s a lot of strategy and planning involved, including trial and error and trying to remember where the enemies are going to emerge from so you’re not killed by a ‘surprise’ attack for the umpteen time!
As stated above, Anthill requires you to use your Switch in portable mode only – the touch of your fingers on the screen is the only way to play. Essentially, the game works identically to how it would on a mobile or tablet device. Initially, you’ll only have access to two unit types, the Worker and Soldier Ants, each with their own purpose. As you progress further into the game, you’ll unlock both the Spitter and Bomber classes who dramatically change the way you approach the later levels. Here’s a brief rundown of the four classes you’ll be in command of:
Worker: These are your standard ants. They can’t attack any enemies and will simply try and run away to avoid confrontation as much as possible. These are the only class which can pick up food, treasure, and the disembodied remains of your enemies, and take them back to the anthill in order to convert them into usable ‘food’.
Soldiers: These are your frontline defenses. They’re quite strong and brave, running head-first (literally) into battle as they use their pincers to attack any and all foes who get within their range.
Spitter: These are weak but very useful ants. Although they have almost the same low amount of health as the Worker ants, these guys can spit at the enemies from a distance, as well as attack flying creatures who are trying to do an aerial attack your anthill. The Spitters can also be assigned to foxholes in order to make them a little stronger and harder to kill.
Bomber: Speaking of flying attacks, the Bombers are your flying defenses. These are the only ones who don’t abide by a trail you draw, you simply tap on the screen and your Bombers will go and drop their load all over the enemy’s faces. These are great as the majority of enemy bugs can’t attack them, however, those who can do end up killing them in one or two hits.
Not including the Bombers, the actual gameplay is quite unique. Instead of drawing a line and assigning a certain number of ants, or picking which ants should patrol that particular area – as you’d expect – you simply pick a class. So, if you draw a circle around your anthill and pick the Soldier ants, this type will begin to emerge from your anthill (providing you have some) and they’ll walk to the end of the trail and then back, forever. If you’ve drawn a few lines and assigned this class, once they reach the anthill, they’ll come out and go down a different path you set for them, then return and go down another one, etc…
Basically, the game only has four unit types, three which follow paths, so you’ll only be assigning either of these three classes to each line you draw. Again, this may sound simple but you have to ensure you have protection for your Workers, projectile backup for your Soldiers, and front-line defense for your Spitters. I’m up to the fourth chapter (there are six, each with seven missions – including a really hard boss battle) and the game has got incredibly difficult. It’s started giving me very limited initial resources and it’s even introduced an enemy ant colony with their own anthill and Soldier ants!
Thankfully, you can upgrade all of your ant classes with the stars you earn for completing the missions (between two and four), granting them new abilities or increasing their performance. For example, my Soldier ants now explode upon death, taking out the enemy when slain, and my Workers are no longer scared of bugs who look nasty but won’t eat them. So, although I’m not a big fan of the multiple star reward system on mobile device games, at least in Anthill it’s not halting progression, it’s allowing you to make your units more advanced.
If you do manage to complete all six chapters, there’s an ‘Infinity mode’ which you can play through. As the name suggests, the game will continuously send wave after wave of bugs towards your anthill, forcing you to continuously slaughter, eat them, and breed in order to survive. I had a go of this and got much further than I thought I would. Unfortunately, you don’t get any new stars or rewards for progressing in this mode, I don’t even recall seeing a leaderboard either. However, it does give you a chance to practice as the game gets gradually more difficult – especially when the bosses start appearing!
Mobile or Switch?
The Nintendo Switch version of Anthill comes with everything you got within the mobile version, including the DLC. Basically, the iOS version costs £4.99 for the base game and 99p for each of the two DLC level packs. There are some microtransactions to give you 20 or 45 stars, but you can’t get these on the Switch. So, that’s £6.97 for the game with all of it’s DLC. On the Switch, it’s £8.99 and it has the game, both DLC packs, all the updates (including the ‘Infinity mode’) and a brand new soundtrack. Both games are pretty much identical, so it’s up to you which one to get – it all depends on if you want to play on your phone or on your Switch.
Anthill is a unique take on the ‘defense’ genre, having you draw and assign trails to units instead of placing towers. From such a simple concept comes an addictive and challenging game, one which will entertain you for many hours as you try and work out the most efficient and cost-effective way to proceed. I personally felt like the later levels spiked in difficulty, without any warning, but after going back and earning more stars to upgrade my ant colony, I began to progress again. It’s a brilliANT ANTdictive game which you’ll find hard to put down.
Anthill is very different from anything I’ve played from Image & Form before, but that’s not a bad thing. I love the ‘Steamworld’ franchise, I own every game on multiple platforms, but experimenting and trying something different every now and again isn’t a bad idea. I’d love a sequel or more DLC for this game, maybe more unit types, bigger maps, a story, or even multiplayer?
- - World's first 'Trail Defense' game
- - Very addictive and challenging
- - Simplistic gameplay and concept yet requires strategic thinking to emerge the victor
- - Perfectly suited for the Switch and the Switch Lite
- - Contains a new soundtrack and both DLC packs
- - Can get pretty tricky in the later levels
- - Only supports touch controls - so no TV gameplay (which makes sense)
- - Only four unit types (although they each have four upgrades)