Many people think they’re capable multitaskers, but the cold hard truth is we’re pretty awful at undertaking simultaneous duties. In fact, studies have shown that the more concurrent tasks we attempt, the worse we are at each individual one. Ironically, interactive entertainment seems to be gradually increasing the number of overlapping actions. Between the ever-growing complexity of our controllers and the advancement of hectic titles which test the limits of our perception with hordes of on-screen activity, games are constantly challenging our cognitive abilities.
At the very forefront of this multitasking movement is MilitAnt, a title which draws inspiration from beloved run-and-gun games like Contra or Metal Slug. In execution, Militant has so many mechanics going on at once, that it’s highly likely players won’t even bypass the second stage. While no single component of the game is exceedingly hard, when it’s piled on so profusely, enjoyment is prohibited.
As the inaugural project of Monterrey, Mexico-based Xibalba Studios, the game’s opening cinematic does little to divulge the modest thirteen-member size of the team. Quality voice acting tells of an insect world divided into different factions at odds over the dwindling resource known as Crystallite. Players take the role of the eponymous army ants- depicted as scrappy underdogs who are forced to be creative with natural resources, turning leaves into body armor while pelting foes with pebbles. Other groups unmistakably pull from human history, from termites showing Third Reich-like resolve to another species that unmistakably represents Japan’s Tokugawa shogunate.
It’s a fertile narrative of groups which warns of groups sinking into oppositional stances, mirroring films like Antz and A Bug’s Life, where the bug world is burgeoned with human-like belligerence. But as promising as the impetus is, MilitAnt largely squanders its storyline, with gameplay so hectic, it’s almost impossible to reflect on any of the geo-political complications. Too often, you’re just trying to survive by dodging a barrage of projectiles and leaping across chasms, to care which group is attacking you.
The game starts serenely enough, with an interactive tutorial across the game’s first stage. Beyond bi-directional navigation via running, jumping, and air-dashing, player also have to aim their shots. If you’re playing the PC and using a mouse and keyboard combo, the process is instinctive enough, with players using place the cursor over enemies across the game’s multiple planes. When using a controller, things get a bit trickier, with the right stick used to lock onto to foes across the foreground and backdrop. Unfortunately, once enemies scroll off-screen the lock is broken, making for a bit of frustration. It’s quite vexing since foes fire spreading shots and getting too close increases the likelihood of getting caught in a crossfire.
Mercifully, you do have a few offensive abilities to mow down the respawning masses. Hitting the melee button not only can kill an adjacent adversary, but if timed right you can send bullets make to their source, like a light saber repelling blaster shots. Your arts arms can also carry four weapons, with collectable gems unlocking a number of additional arms like crossbows and flamethrowers.
While your loadout grows increasingly powerful as gems are earned and in-game purchases are made, players might reach a daunting obstruction on the first two stages. Here, your default armament can take down foes in two or three direct shots, but the problem is that weapons overheat after firing just a few rounds. Sure, players can press a button to switch guns or alternate triggers, but it’s a mechanic without reward. In execution, when you see your ant dry firing, you’ll switch to the other gun- but the issue is that you might take a few hits in the process.
Then there’s the first stage’s two-part boss battle, where you’ll fight a duo of extremely powerful enemies with extended health bars. It’s here that MilitAnt’s obsession for multitasking shows, as players simultaneous jump projectiles, whittle away at the boss, while dealing with respawning antagonists. As someone who regularly runs through an entire game of Conta with a set of three lives, I found this showdown to be more frustrating than fun, as it took at least tries to bypass the battle. Woefully, that wasn’t the worst part- soon there’s a secondary skirmish that replicates the agony-inducing sequence. Things only go downhill from there with a stage that adds bottomless pits to the mix. It’s here that I had to throw in the towel, with at least twenty attempts being unsuccessful. Perhaps, MilitAnt grows easier, but try as I might I was unable to find out.
Which is a shame because Xibalba Studios seems to have the fundamentals for a competent game. But having to simultaneous platform, aim, shoot, melee projectiles, and strike enemies proves to be a bit too difficult, as least for the health bar that’s bestowed to players. With a bit of additional balancing and the addition of difficulty levels, MilitAnt might be worth a go, but as it stands, you’ll probably want to steer clear of the soldier, unless you’re an absolute masochist.
MilitAnt was played on the PC with review code provided by the publisher.
Platform: PlayStation 4, PC, coming to PS3 and PS Vita
Developer: Xibalba Studios
Publisher: Xibalba Studios
Release Date: July 12th, 2016
Price: $9.99 via PSN, 3-way Cross-buy (20% discount for PS+) or via Steam (PC)