Developer: Concrete Software, Inc.
Price: $.99
Version Reviewed: 1.0

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★★☆
Game Controls Rating: ★★★★★
Gameplay Rating: ★★★☆☆
Re-use / Replay Value Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Overall Rating: ★★★½☆

Off to the Strawberry Races

Off to the Strawberry Races

As young children it’s seen as almost a right of passage to dabble in specicide. If ants didn’t wish to be wiped out by mischievous flip-flops and Superman sneakers, they really shouldn’t have congregated so blatantly. Occasionally though, someone steps on the wrong hill. A foot covered by angry, dangling fire-ants will change the way you think of those hard-working little insects forever. Such enmity must extend past the realm of childhood. For those who have been bitten and carry the scars, Ant Hill allows you to work through the trauma of a scarred childhood while keeping your loafers free of dirt and corpses. In Ant Hill, you hover above a stark section of bare earth where a colony of black ants have chosen to live. A few leaves peak over the edge of the screen and move gently when ants crawl over them. All this probably seems too tranquil, so it’s up to you to mix things up a bit.

Gameplay and Interface

The list of nice things you can do for the ants is pretty short. You can feed them strawberries, which, I have to admit, is pretty nice since ants aren’t picky about food. You can also move their ant hill, so their paths don’t get predictable, or you can guide them directly to certain things (which isn’t always nice). Ants can also have races with red ants that involve either pushing rocks off the screen or eating strawberries. A strawberry eating contest sounds nice, but in my experience it always ended with all the ants (red and black) embroiled in a deadly war. (Dying triggers a cute little image of them turning into ants with wings)

img_000116Another, less benevolent, tool is a magnifying glass that doesn’t magnify anything, but does cause tiny insects (strangely just tiny insects) to burst into flames. I suppose sympathetic people could use this to kill the aggressive red ants, but it seems like taking sides would be a step backwards. You may choose to drop rocks on top of the hill or on top of ants (if you’re quick enough) with gusto and style that reminds one of Coyote vs. Roadrunner. The ants will push any rock off the screen, presumably to secure their colony. Finally, you can tilt the piece of ground using the iPhone accelerometer so that the ants go sliding about along with the rocks and strawberries that you’ve dropped previously. And yes, for those with devious minds, this means that you can lure ants with tasty treats and then tilt to crush them with the sweet confection fresh on their mandibles.

The game gains some interest when combinations of these options come into play. For example, when in a strawberry race, you can slide the strawberry around, which often confuses opposing teams into eating the other group’s fruit. If the ants were more intelligent, it’d limit the fun that can be had with these sort of variations. Greatly increasing the number of ants can make things much more fun. The animations are great, bringing a slight tinge of revulsion when the ants swarm out of their mound. Sounds are also a great fit for the application.

Replay Value

Unfortunately there’s just not enough variation to hold one’s interest.
The red ants add a layer of interest, but they seem to appear randomly and they leave you wishing that you could wage battles against an opposing mound. Just extending the screen via zoom to see an enemy mound and perhaps adding a stream for ants to cross would greatly improve the game’s longevity. Other positive and negative options would also be great, and the game could even potentially be extended into the realm of strategy. Food/Population management when added to warfare and even adding other predators would transform the game from a (very well done) novelty into a must-have.

Conclusion

Ant Hill is a really interesting concept that just needs some added content to be a shining star on the App Store. Games like Pocket God inhabit the same space and succeed by constantly adding features. The developer could take that route or they could go even further and add a depth to the gameplay that would be that much more enticing. Right now, I feel the app is worth a look at its low price point, but you may want to wait for a little more excitement to come to the colony.

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