‘Amazing Ants’ Review – Think Pac-Man With Pincers

Below Zero Games’s first release, Amazing Ants, is a 2-D strategy puzzler inspired by classic 80’s maze games. Currently available for the PC, the game features over 250 solo mazes, more than 30 two-player levels and a full level editor for building custom mazes.

Rather than setting players up in yet another human versus nature conflict, Amazing Ants favors more of a civil war approach by pitting brother against brother – or in this case, black ants versus red ants. According to the story on the site, the black ants’ backyard has been invaded by the vicious red ants, whose home in the forest has been destroyed by a black bear. Players can choose to play as either a red or black ant.

Amazing Ants is, first and foremost, a maze game, and in terms of level design it is pretty well done. The mazes are distinct from one another in both appearance and difficulty, starting out fairly simply and increasing in complexity gradually as players progress. The challenge comes not in navigating the mazes themselves but in avoiding the enemy ants running rampant around the playfield. While it is possible to defeat them, triumph in such encounters is based on chance more than skill, and maneuvering around your foes rather than confronting them is advisable.

Between the two-dimensional depth, the top-down perspective and the bright and colorful graphics, it feels a bit like a cross between classic gaming and a maze in a kid’s coloring book. As we mentioned when we announced the game’s release back in September, the game really does feel a bit like the Discovery Channel version of Pac-Man; the retro vibe is definitely strong in this one.

Unfortunately, the graphics fall a bit short of amazing and feel more like bad 1990’s website design than nostalgic 1980’s gaming. The concept is good – bright colors, simple shapes, and a dated look are all part of the charm of retro. But the look just isn’t all that appealing, which is a problem for a game that looks to hook players for life (or at least several hours) the way Tetris did. The grass background on some levels induces some serious eye-squinting, and some objects have visible (unintentional) white edges. The finish-line graphic at the end of each maze (the word “DONE” pulsing in blue over a red and white target symbol) is almost blinding. Considering the magic available at developers’ fingertips today, a little bit of polish wouldn’t have hurt.

But if you find your eyes in need of respite, you could always take a break, sit back and just listen to the music. Amazing Ants features an endearing (and incredibly 80’s) synthesizer-based soundtrack that gives gameplay a strange, space-agey ambience that is just plain fun, to the point where I don’t even care whether or not it makes sense for a game about ants. There are several different tracks, all enjoyable, and the sound effects include a great old-school “game over” noise when the player loses a life.

Whatever you do, just don’t hit the “escape” key by accident – like I did about a hundred or so times – as doing so will result in an immediate and complete exit from the game. While this isn’t necessarily a flaw, it seems like it might be handy to have at least one little “Are you sure you want to exit?” dialogue box pop up first, so that gamers like me who have been conditioned to expect “escape” to pause the game and display the menu won’t end up cursing every five minutes when they have to start over. Aside from this, basic gameplay is fairly simple and straightforward; though the control menu is a bit of a mess to look at, the optional tutorial does a decent job of preparing new players for the Amazing Ants experience, which includes very simple movement controls and a nice array of power-ups.

Overall, Amazing Ants is a fun, if flawed, game. It may not succeed in stealing weeks or even days out of your life the way a more violently addictive game might, but it is at least a good diversion for a few hours from work and everyday stress. The sheer volume and range of activity the game offers is pretty impressive – in addition to all the levels in the main game plus the two-player levels, there are also a variety of amusing mini-games included in case you grow weary of mazes.

If the sandwich-stealing, tunnel-digging, pincers-wielding, maze-maneuvering life is for you, you can purchase Amazing Ants for $5 (or try the free demo, available as both a download and an in-browser game) via the official site. There is also currently a free festive demo available which was released back in December to celebrate the holiday spirit.

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