Kill All Bugs! TD and RTS in your bug soup

Posted: July 3, 2009 in Strategy, Tower Defense

Growing up I had this fascination with chintzy and campy movies that involved giant bugs attacking people and invading cities. Movies with simple titles such as “Ants” and “Swarm” always had a certain appeal for their cheesy scripts and in some cases, even humorous acting. Of course, I also liked Starship Troopers, but that’s a whole other story. So, when Kill All Bugs! appeared in the iTunes store and was billed as a combination tower defense and real-time strategy game, I was intrigued. Surprisingly, the game delivers an elixir of campy uniqueness and strategic dexterity—bugs life this is not.

The theme is big bugs, big menacing mutant bugs that have landed and are now emerging out of the ground in hordes to attack cities. When I first looked at the graphics, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but they look and play pretty well. Visually, the game looks like it came out of a Gameboy—colorful with a mix of pixels—and it fits within the overall theme of the game. The soundtrack is ominous, and while it sounds like something from a Russ Meyer film, a varied soundtrack probably would have been a good idea. Like a TD game, the objective in Kill All Bugs is to build defenses in a free non-fixed path format and destroy enemies before they reach the populated cities. RTS comes into play when defenses need to be moved and managed because these are actually smart bugs that look for and take alternate routes.

Kill All Bugs has two game modes: Mission and Survival. Mission is the campaign mode consisting of 21 missions that are progressively unlocked. Each mission is presented with an intro screen describing the situation and the objectives. Depending on the degree of success in saving the local populations, medals (gold, silver and bronze) are earned. In addition, a promotion in rank (private, corporal, sergeant etc.) is awarded as well as extras that are unlocked as you progress through the missions. These extras are campy and include artwork and short animated videos which you can access under the Extras section. What would’ve made sense was to provide additional weapons, defenses or even additional levels that could be unlocked as extras.

Survival will test your endurance with unlimited attack waves as well as your ability to quickly think and manage resources. There are also 3 levels of difficulty: easy, normal and hard, and your best time for each level of difficulty is recorded.

The added challenge comes from the fact that you have a limited set of weapons that are not upgradeable. While some may not like that, I find it forces you to be more strategic and is core to the game’s RTS element.

Weapons include:
* Gun Turret
* Flame Turret
* Missile Turret
* Stun Tower
* Power Generator
* Laser Fence
* Airstrike

Each weapon has a different range and effect depending on the bug and can be sold by tapping on them and following the prompt. For example, a laser fence can be configured to different levels of strength based on placement. A stun tower which slows down bugs will temporarily stop them in their tracks when activated by tapping on it. Visually, the weapons can be fun to watch especially in the case of the missile turret which launches missiles in the air only to hit targets on the ground. Another is the Airstrike that literally sends a fleet of bombers across the screen to bomb the bugs. The Airstrike has up to five levels of power and gradually builds up during each mission.

It took some getting used to the fact that I couldn’t upgrade any of the weapons, but this fits the RTS element because of the intelligence of the bugs. As I mentioned, they will look for other routes, and they will change their attack pattern so you will constantly be selling and repositioning defenses. Think you can completely block their paths to the cities? Think again because the bugs will simply eat through defenses.

The game screen is functionally laid out. At the top of the screen is the Airstrike gauge that slowly builds up along with the activation button in the upper right corner. Along the bottom of the screen is the money earned counter, number of attack waves (Mission) or timer (Survival), and the population. Zooming in and out is done by pinching and drag to view different parts of the screen.

The gameplay is very intuitive where you simply tap the location where a defensive unit is to be placed. Keep in mind that as you progress, the number of cities to protect will fluctuate as well as the availability of certain weapons. In some cases, you may have a limited number of a specific type of weapon regardless of how much money is earned. While having a limited variety of weapons with no upgrades would seem to make Kill All Bugs simpler than a TD game, in many ways, Kill All Bugs is more challenging because it requires constant attention due to the bug AI. The other dynamic can be found in the variety of missions with the different terrains and day and night conditions which impact visibility.

Kill All Bugs offers a creative approach to TD/RTS especially with an AI that attempts to outsmart you. Campiness, giant bugs, and even a cheesy soundtrack together deliver a fun and challenging game.

Albie Meter: 4 Stars (recommended for those who want a different twist on TD with a certain degree of RTS or just have an interest in bugs; while not particularly deep, the game offers a good degree of challenge and strategy)

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