A thinking man’s fight for a microscopic battlefield
Like tower defense, fast strategy games (I don’t know if this is actually a genre, but if it isn’t I’m coining it now) are a relatively young genre that have gained momentum on mobile platforms. Their design lends themselves to mobile play. The fast pace and simple control scheme makes fast strategy perfect for the touch screen and gaming on the go. It’s one of the few genres that feels like it belongs on an iPhone. Tentacle Wars is one of the finer examples of this. No clumsy virtual d-pads or gross approximations PC/Console control schemes, just a game the feels at home in your pocket.
Tentacle Wars, like most others of the genre (Galcon, for example) is a real time strategy game that strips away some of the complexity you’d expect to see in a PC RTS. Gone are the base building, unit building and resource gathering. Instead, each stage features a number of fixed nodes. When occupied, these nodes generate units at a fixed rate. Once you build up enough units, you press the occupied node and drag an arrow towards an unoccupied or enemy node. If you have more units than the enemy does at this node, you will capture it. Rinse and repeat.
This is the basic premise of fast strategy, but the genre also has a touch of puzzle game to it. As each level arranges nodes differently, knowing which node to take and when to do it is paramount. Sometimes if you haven’t deduced the proper sequence, you’ll have no hope of winning. Tentacle Wars takes this puzzle game element and ramps it up. So much so that I would say Tentacle Wars is much more than a typical fast strategy game. It is an evolutionary step for the genre.
The nodes in Tentacle Wars are rendered as cells/bacteria, and so I’m tempted to call the units these cells create antibodies. This microscopic motif works well, especially when combined with the game’s excellent music – it’s quite atmospheric. But back to the mechanics. Each cell can only send out a few strings of antibodies toward enemy cells. As these antibodies reach out from your cells like tentacles, the number of available units in the node decreases. If an the opposing cell you are attacking counterattacks, then both tentacles become locked in a tug of war, both draining the other’s available units.
If, however, the enemy cell cannot block your tentacle — either for lack of units or because its tentacles are engaged elsewhere — you can swipe your line of antibodies, cutting it and sending them straight into the enemy cell all at once, rapidly decreasing its available units and hopefully capturing it. Tentacle Wars is all about outmaneuvering and flanking enemy cells. Tie a cell up by sending a few strings of antibodies at it, and then, while it’s defending, send another tentacle to take it out.
The puzzle game elements really show once Tentacle Wars begins introducing more complex and convoluted cell placement — and especially once it introduces barriers. There are certain stages that can only be beaten if you tackle them in a very specific way. Be prepared to replay tough stages often. If you get stuck somewhere along the line though, no worries. A branching campaign mode means you’ll be able to move on if you get tired of a demanding level. And once you complete the campaign, you can try to get higher scores on each stage by completing them in less moves.
Unfortunately Tentacle Wars’ multiplayer mode is either broken or yet to be implemented. No matter how many times I tapped the multiplayer button on the menu screen, nothing happened. Which is a damn shame, because multiplayer could have been a lot of fun. Regardless, Tentacle Wars is well worth the price to any fan of a decent puzzle or strategy game.