If you’ve always wondered what it would be like to play a game filled with those crawlie things Khan stuffed into Mr. Chekov’s ear in Star Trek II, Aztlan Games offers an answer in Multipods: Escalation (Out Now, $.99). Part Real-Time Strategy, part Castle Defense, Multipods tasks the player with appropriately directing a handful of arthropods in the defense of 45 futuristic, grid-based environments. A hint of puzzle solving is stirred into the formula through the fact that each level assigns a particular number and assortment of insect defenders to the player. Only if available units are used efficiently will they survive combat fatigue long enough to fend off waves of invading critters.
Multipods fares incredibly well in providing a simple but challenging RTS experience when it sticks to the formula described above. The game’s Achilles’ heel, then, is its frequent deviation from that formula in ways that aren’t useful. A few too many of the 45 levels on offer in the initial release feel as if they’re tutorials meant to acclimate the player to the capabilities of different Multipod types; some are built for close combat, others lay timed land mines, etc. With the exception of an exemplary guide on the rock-bottom basics of moving these little critters around, tutorial levels prefer to let the player guess at finer details and master them gradually through experimentation, rather than offer the information clearly and succinctly.
Another way in which Multipods starts off on the wrong foot is its inclusion of a ring collection gameplay element: the player completes a level only after a.) eliminating all enemy waves; and b.) collecting all rings scattered across its grid. My hope that this game mechanic would serve some strategic purpose – say, refilling the Multipods’ depleted health or unleashing a screen clearing attack – went unanswered. It really is a superfluous time waster, especially so because the insects under the player’s control aren’t especially renowned for their quick scampering.
The player issues commands to his or her assortment of Multipods by tapping them and then tapping intended destinations or enemies to knock out, although each category of Multipod has its own control quirks. Thanks to a strange split second lag in the game’s touch response time, I found selecting moving enemies too much of a chore to bother with — sending Multipods to guard specific squares and auto-attack all enemies that approach is a far more efficient way to deal with the opposition. With the burden of issuing constant attack orders mostly lifted by this guard function, the player may concentrate on the real fun of identifying (or creating!) and exploiting cul de sacs within battlefields that feel very well designed during the non-tutorial, Castle Defense-style levels.
Multipods performs exceptionally well aesthetically. Battlefields get pretty expansive, so the game’s pinch-to-zoom and slide scrolling features are welcome for more than just getting a better look at all the hand drawn sprites. The game features only one music track and currently does not support external iTunes tracks, but at least it’s a rockin’ tune. External music functionality should be on tap in an update that will land in the App Store soon. Multipods‘ 45 levels should offer about ten hours’ worth of gameplay on average; it’s just too bad a few of those hours have to be soaked up by tutorials and repetitive collection exercises!
iFanzine Verdict: There’s an excellent little RTS/Castle Defense game to be found in Multipods: Escalation, if only the player has the patience to let it bloom after a few hours of slow paced levels that feel like overblown tutorials. Since it’s loaded with content, there’s still enough good to go around for fans of either genre who have the patience to stick with it and are looking for something interesting in this price range.