Amazing Ants is a new iOS game developed by Twyngo and published by Pocket Gems. It’s available now as a free download from the App Store, with additional in-app purchases of hints and special abilities.
Amazing Ants is a puzzle game vaguely reminiscent of the classic title Lemmings from Grand Theft Auto creators DMA Design (now Rockstar North). In each level, the player must successfully navigate a number of ants from the start point to the exit as efficiently as possible while collecting fruit. As the game progresses, more and more options and mechanics open up, beginning with a limited “jump” function and continuing with sticks that accelerate the ants at high speed, allowing them to speed over loop-the-loops; lawn sprinklers that bounce the ants into the air; and soap bubbles that allow them to float.
In each level, the player must collect at least one of the three pieces of fruit before reaching the exit. Each of the three ants in a level may only carry one piece of fruit at a time, and the game rewards the player with in-game currency the more they successfully grab by the time they all reach the exit. The player is also given a star rating according to how quickly they beat the level, with earned coins gaining a multiplier if a three-star rating is achieved.
Controls are relatively straightforward. The ants stand still until they are touched, at which point tapping them again causes them to jump. It is quite difficult to tap on the correct ant you would like to jump on the small screen of the iPhone, as they often overlap, making it easy to miss tricky moves. Various items may be dragged down from the top of the screen or moved if they are already in place. Most items are affected by physics, meaning “floating” objects cannot be placed, as they will simply fall to the floor. Certain levels demand that the ants knock over items in order to reach previously-inaccessible areas, and bonus “minigame” stages see the player with a much longer than usual string of ants trooping towards the exit, with the player able to manipulate any red-colored objects on the stage to guide them.
Amazing Ants’ puzzles start simple but become increasingly fiendish as the game progresses. The game’s monetization stems primarily from the sale of “hint” items which help players to solve particularly troublesome levels, but the player must also pay up in soft currency to unlock additional sets of levels. The “Unlock rest of game” item is rather expensive in terms of coins and will almost definitely require an in-app purchase to attain — quite why it is not simply an in-app purchase rather than a 500,000 coin item (the equivalent of about $8) is a mystery.
For players who are really having difficulty, the player may also make in-app purchases to unlock unlimited jumps for either the current set of levels they are playing, or for the entire game. There are also special deals available that bundle these unlimited jump packages together with other bonuses, but these are only listed in one specific place in the game’s menus, meaning players will easily miss out on them.
In terms of social features, the game supports Apple’s Game Center and places a particular focus on the “Challenges” component added in iOS 6. It’s good to see this oft-forgotten feature of Game Center seeing some time in the spotlight, but unfortunately Amazing Ants isn’t really the sort of game that lends itself very well to social, competitive play. A strong emphasis is placed on challenging friends to attain the game’s achievements, but the majority of these are more a matter of endurance than skill.
Amazing Ants’ core gameplay is solid and its presentation is decent (if unremarkable in the fact its cartoony graphics look like every other physics puzzler out there) but its monetization aspect feels a little gratuitous. Purchasing the ability for unlimited jumps effectively removes the game’s “puzzle” nature, turning it into a mediocre platform game rather than an interesting physics puzzle game. The decision to make the “full game unlock” function a soft currency purchase rather than an in-app purchase is also a bizarre decision — it’s very unlikely players are going to want to grind through the levels repeatedly in order to earn the necessary 500,000 coins for this offering. Levels may be unlocked in individual “sets” for significantly fewer coins at a time, too, so the benefit of paying up this large expense isn’t made particularly clear to the player.
Amazing Ants would probably have worked better as a paid game with less aggressive monetization. The “store” functionality just gets in the way of the game’s simplicity and makes the player overly-aware of its business model rather than allowing them to just get on and play. It’s not a bad game at all, but the fact it offers players the opportunity to completely break one of its core gameplay concepts with in-app purchases is something of a sign of the times.
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A decent physics puzzle game marred a little by overly-aggressive monetization.