Before finding success with the Steamworld series, Image & Form launched a little game called Anthill on mobile devices. You might not have even heard of it before now, but the studio claims it to be one of their finest games, without which they wouldn’t have had the courage to move onto the Steamworld series. They’re actually pretty spot on, because Anthill is a surprisingly engaging strategy game that may not feel quite so innovative eight years after its initial release, but is still great fun.

Playable only in handheld mode (Switch Lite owners, rejoice!), Antill sees you effectively take command of an entire colony of ants, defending your home against invading insects whilst gathering precious food to sustain your forces. Utilising the Switch’s touch screen, you’ll need to draw pheromone trails from the centre of the anthill outwards, directing your ants towards food, incoming threats, and the occasional score-boosting gemstone. You can draw the lines pretty much however you want, whether it’s a straight line from the anthill directly to your target, or a curved line circles the battlefield, forming a kind of protective wall.

It seems strange to call a little mound of soil a battlefield, but that’s exactly what it is. Your troops are made up of worker ants, soldiers, spitters, and bombers. The worker ants are perhaps the most important group, as they clear the field of any insect carcasses, which are brought back to the anthill and converted to food. The more food you accumulate, the more ants you can spawn. The soldiers do exactly what you’d expect, directly attacking any incoming threat by biting them head-on. Sending one out on its own is foolish, and will likely end with its quick demise, but getting a group together is a great way of fending off swarms of enemies. Spitters are unlocked later in the game, and fire at enemies from a safe distance, which is great for providing cover for your soldiers. Finally, the bombers can be sent to dish out damage to specific targets by tapping on an enemy.

The main mode sees you take on a variety of levels with different objectives and a gradually increasing level of difficulty as you progress. Boss battles also show up, where you'll need to take on the usual swarm of enemies backed up by large, ferocious insects that will annihilate your anthill if you don’t take them out quick enough. Gaining points and completing objectives will reward you with stars for each level (this is where it really feels like a mobile game), and you can then spend these on upgrading your forces, like increasing the workers’ strength when carrying objects, and improving your soldiers’ attack power.

Aside from the main mode, there’s also Infinity mode, which is an endless onslaught of enemies that will continue to attack until you eventually succumb to the overwhelming swarms. Well, either that, or you just carry on playing for however long you like, if you’re good enough. This mode is the star of the game, as it’s far more brutal than the normal levels and really tests your strategic abilities. It’s available right from the start, but beginners will really struggle here, and we certainly recommend you get a few of the standard levels under your belt before you try out the Infinity mode.

Graphically, the game is pretty simplistic as a whole. The overhead view works well, but once the game really gets going and you’ve got dozens of ants roaming around, it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish the different groups from one another, particularly the workers and the soldiers. Additionally, you can tap and hold onto one of your pheromone trails to get rid of it, but when you’ve got several all grouped together in close proximity, it can be tricky to tap on the correct one, particularly on the Switch Lite’s smaller screen. Nevertheless, the insect design is good, and we loved the little army hats the soldier ants wore.

Conclusion

Anthill may be several years old at this point, but it’s still a fun little game that showcases Image & Form’s talents before the Steamworld series gathered, er... steam. There’s a decent amount of depth here as you explore various strategies to defend your anthill, and there’s good replay value with the delightful Infinity mode. It falls down a bit on graphics, as it can look a bit overly simplistic at times, and we would have at least liked the option to play on the TV, perhaps with pointer controls.