Konami returns to Wiiware with another semi-strategy game. This time instead of reactively fending off crabs, you’ll be proactively leading a nation of ants in a war of senseless aggression. Finally, those ladybugs will get what they deserve. But is this nation worthy of a leader such as you?
Ant Nation is categorized as a ‘simulation’ game. But that is not entirely accurate. Sim Ant was a simulation game in which you managed a colony of ants much like a city in Sim City. But that is not the kind of game play you should expect here. Instead, Ant Nation plays more like a simplified real time strategy game mixed with Pikmin in that it is mission based and your goal is to shepherd your ants from task to task. The only ‘simulation’ aspect to the game comes in the form of expanding your ant colony in between missions.
The twist here is that the player is actually a character in the game. It plays sort of like a ‘first person simulation’ game, if that’s conceivable. You have items like a magnifying glass and an eyedropper to use. You can also stomp things with your shoe or a hammer. So everything takes place from your first-person perspective.
The game progresses through missions, which are sequential, and you can choose to begin the next one at any time. There are 100 missions in all. This number should be taken with a grain of salt as the first few missions are more of a tutorial and can be completed in a matter of seconds. And additional training missions are scattered throughout the game. Moreover, the skill required to complete each mission is greatly uneven, some will require many attempts to complete, while the next one may be over within a matter of seconds and requiring you to do almost nothing. Even so, the game still will take you several hours to complete; depending on how many attempts it takes you to complete each mission.
Each mission has a time limit attached to it and so if you fail to figure out how to finish the mission in time you will have to start the mission over. However, there are steeper consequences than just wasted time to losing a mission, namely your ants can die in battle as we will explain below. In fact, you can even put yourself in a position where it is impossible to advance any further in the game for lack of ants.
You see, ants do not ‘breed’ in the traditional sense. Rather, mommy and daddy ants bring food back to the ant colony and baby ants are immaculately conceived. The most obvious source of food is, well, food, which you can drop onto the playing field. You obtain this food by purchasing it with gold, which some scientist dude gives you upon completing a mission.
Your primary objective in between missions is to build up the size of your ant colony. Unlike missions, this building phase has no time limit. Because your goal is so straightforward, and because the ants carry food so slowly, this aspect can try your patience over time. It is fun enough on the first play through as you are constantly unlocking new items and new foods to use. But once you realize that you spend most of your time with the game just watching ants carry food back to the colony, the desire for repeat play goes way down.
It’s not all just about numbers, though, as each individual ant has their own skill level that can be upgraded with experience. This adds a bit of value to the individual ant that has leveled up RPG style and encourages you to protect them from harm. Unfortunately, it is impossible to distinguish one ant from another without having to click on them first. And once you have hundreds of ants in play, you will be unable to focus pick out your experienced ants without messing with your eyedropper settings.
It turns out you have a very intelligent eyedropper. You use it to pick up ants and then blow them out where you want them. You can even set the dropper to pick up only ants of certain skill levels. With the dropper you can quickly send reinforcements into combat, send your ants to retrieve food more quickly, or even save injured ants by pulling them away from battle and then sending in fresh ants to replace them. Funny, when we tested this in real life the 196 ants we sucked into a dropper didn’t come out hungry for cake. In fact, they didn’t come out at all.
With your dropper and magnifying glass in hand, the main game is fairly straightforward and the only twists thrown your way are newer, bigger foods and items to use. There are occasional twists such as levels directing you to hammer a red ant that you must find on the field. But generally the goal is always the same. Kill something, eat it, and build more ants, while losing as few ants as possible along the way. Of course, this is not so different from the typical real time strategy game, and so fans of that genre will find Ant Nation to be worth at least one play through.
In addition to the Main game there is a ‘Bonus’ game featuring 20 levels. All 20 levels are a different variety of ‘squish the ants’ gameplay. For instance, you can try hammers, lasers, rocket launchers, or good old-fashioned bug spray. Some of the options are much harder than the others, but you only have one or two options on each level and your goal is to kill all of the ants as quickly as possible. It’s good, brainless fun for a while, but it will get old quickly and, like the main game, has limited replay appeal unless you just really, really want to kill ants faster to get a new best time.
As for technical details, the graphics seem to be around N64 quality. But they are in line with most WiiWare games and manage to get the job done with one exception. The ants are small and what does not work so well is that they can sometimes be difficult to find. This is rarely a problem in the main game, as ants always find their way home eventually. But in the bonus game, where you are tasked with killing every ant, a tiny black ant standing still in the grass can be almost impossible to find unless you start randomly hitting things. Aside from that, what is somewhat impressive is the sheer number of ants that can be shown onscreen at the same time. Although they all look alike, it is impressive to have hundreds of moving characters onscreen at the same time.
The game controls well enough and can be handled entirely with the Remote. However, what the Wii Shop channel doesn’t tell you is that there is also nunchuk support. This is primarily to allow you to use the thumb stick to move the camera around the field. We found the default controls using the d-pad on the Wii Remote to be somewhat clumsy and so preferred the nunchuk option.
Ant Nation is a tight little strategy game that will be familiar to fans of Pikmin and real time strategy games, but will play differently enough to provide a fresh experience. Additionally, the game play is simple and the early missions helpful enough that newcomers to the genre will have no trouble getting into the fun.
There are not too many games on WiiWare right now that offer a ‘simulation’ game experience like what Ant Nation provides. So fans of this genre will quickly dismiss any faults, such as the widely varying difficulty of each level, the bland graphics, and the lack of much replay value after you have finished the main game and look only to its good aspects such as its short, manageable missions and rewarding sense of accomplishment from completing them. But in the end Ant Nation is just a fun, quirky game that most people with a sense of humor and at least a passing interest in strategy will get some pleasure out of.