Traditionally, real-time strategy games have been the domain of the PC. Attempts have been made to move the genre to other platforms in the past, some more successful than others, but demanding complexity and mouse-centered control schemes have typically kept it from flourishing elsewhere. Enter Amoebattle, a real-time strategy game for iOS (with a DSiWare version on the way next month). Cute though it may be, the heart of real-time strategy definitely beats below its adorable exterior.
The various units of Amoebattle are all different kinds of amoebae, each with different strengths and weaknesses. Controlling a unit is as simple as tapping it and then tapping the desired location. More complex actions can be carried out with swipes and double taps. To pick multiple units, simply draw a circle around them. You only want one type of unit? Double tap it to select all of that unit type on the screen. You can even assign up to three numbered squads for quick selection.
About the only action I found cumbersome was navigating the map. Scrolling around with two fingers is easy enough, but it can take a while to find the location you're looking for. It's possible to jump to a location by tapping it on the mini-map, but it's a bit hard to be precise when the mini-map is approximately the size of your average fingertip (which isn't a problem on the iPad, I'm sure). It's easy enough to snap to squads, however, with a quick double tap.
Each unit has different skills, from the basic grunt melee unit to more advanced ranged and poisonous units. Rather than building individual units, amoebae appropriately split into two of the same unit or mutate into a different unit. The catch is that mutation is more expensive than splitting, though if you stick to splitting you obviously lose a little unit variety. So far, halfway through the twelve mission campaign, I haven't needed a great deal of variety to complete missions. Mixing up ranged and melee units is easily the most efficient use of your resources – there's no point in a giant glob of melee units if half of them can't get close enough to attack.
While you might be able to get away with a lack of variety, quick management and placement of multiple squads is a necessity. This is particularly true of any mission that requires you to wipe out enemy forces while simultaneously defending a vital target. I lost one mission repeatedly before I realized the tried-and-true "move entire army everywhere" tactic wouldn't suffice. Instead, I had to manage a group of defenders while simultaneously sending my microscopic death squad to enemy encampments. Again, after assigning some squads, some quick double taps will have you jumping around the map and orchestrating your domination in no time.
Couple the precise controls with a well-done soundtrack and the aforementioned sharp, adorable visuals, and Amoebattle provides a genuinely entertaining real-time strategy experience in the palm of your hand.
Amoebattle is available as a universal iPad/iPhone app for $4.99 on iTunes. A $4.99 DSiWare version will be released on May 3. We're always looking for new distractions. Want to submit your game for Portabliss consideration? You can reach us at portabliss aat joystiq dawt com.