My, Aztlan Games sure like their creepy critters! Fresh off last April’s Multipods: Escalation, they’re back already with lots more crawly things, and after some hands-on time with Vermes on Mars we’re glad to see that they’re really upping the ante! Action fans who are looking for a fair amount of depth and some fun on-the-fly strategizing will want to keep a keen eye on this one as it nears release.

In Vermes, the player directs a squad of four remote-controlled Mars rovers that happen to be heavily armed. The idea is to clear the planet’s surface of ferocious space beasts that look like they could have crawled right out of a Tremors film, so that a mega mining corporation may do as it pleases in their rust-colored habitat. What’s really cool about Vermes is that the player controls the entire squad of vehicles in tandem, and has to think in broader terms than he or she would if each unit were being micromanaged separately.

Once the militarized rovers thump onto the Martian soil at a level’s outset, the player’s task is to have them sweep through the desert until they draw out their first Vermes for extermination. Already, strategy is key. A simple tap at the touchscreen will command the rovers to head for the destination point in a tight ring, which lends them force concentration but is unlikely to draw out many Vermes. Should the player swipe an arc, line, or even a wide circle over the screen, the rovers will dutifully spread out along the indicated front. More surface area is covered this way – and more Vermes lured out in one move – but the separated rovers are more likely to be munched to bits as the Vermes single them out for destruction.

The player could take his or her time relying solely on the less risky tap method, if only the Martian weather would cooperate. The rovers get only a minute or two to complete their extermination run before a sandstorm sweeps through and obliterates them! Therefore the player has to balance the tap and swipe commands for maximum efficiency; Aztlan’s greatest accomplishment here may be that it’s turned something as routine as motion into a truly engaging task.

Compared to all the nuances inherent in moving the rovers around, taking out Vermes is pretty simple. Once a critter or two – or maybe half a dozen if the player wasn’t careful! – rise up to do battle with the rovers, the player double taps to switch the interface from movement mode to firing mode. Here, all four rovers fire at whatever point the player indicates by holding on the touchscreen. Not all Vermes are created equal, so the player has to assess which ones are the most dangerous based on previous encounters, and remove those from the battlefield first. The Vermes must have raw cash flowing through their wormlike segments, because it conveniently spurts out of them as they’re annihilated. Money, along with special weapons and other bonuses, are drawn to the magnetized chassis of the nearest rover.

Aside from its movement mechanics, Vermes really shines in the way it incentivizes excellent performance. If Vermes aren’t rooted out and eliminated efficiently, they’ll quickly devour rovers and leave the player with less firepower to work with for the remainder of the level. Should a level be completed after one or more rovers are lost, any that were put out of commission are replaced by brand new ones — sans any upgrades the player had applied to their junked predecessors! Levels can be aborted during a run of bad luck, but the best way to avoid wasteful re-upgrading is simply to achieve victory effectively. Then the player can save up to purchase more advanced bots.

With an interesting premise and unique squad-based gameplay, Vermes represents a big step up for Aztlan Games. Will it make a big enough splash on the App Store to warrant a sequel called The Vermes Strike Back? It’s already made an impression on us, that’s for sure — check back here for an iFanzine Verdict once it releases in August! For now we’ll leave you with a giant 15 minute sneak peek courtesy of Touchgameplay and Aztlan Games: