Sidescrolling platformer MilitAnt is a shining example of why external feedback is important in game development; a promising concept for a potentially great game is ruined by some very poor design decisions.
The background for MilitAnt sounds promising — the races of ants and termites are engaged in armed conflict over precious resources, while the wasp kingdom collapses into a revolutionary civil war fuelled in part by the termites and their allies, the beetles. Meanwhile, the looming threat of the fierce scorpions grows as they watch from the sidelines, waiting for their chance to strike at the weakened opposition.
Unfortunately, none of this really matters. The lore doesn’t translate much into actual game mechanics, being more of an excuse for fighting various races rather than being an interactive storyline.
On the surface, MilitAnt looks like an anthropomorphic version of classic 2.5D platformers like Klonoa or Pandemonium, combined with the shmup aspect of games like Contra and paired with the exciting addition of weapon customisation.
As a nameless ant soldier fighting against the tide of termite invasion, you’ll run and jump through hives and fields, taking on all of the aforementioned races thanks to the termites scheming and turning them all against you.
One of MilitAnt’s key features is that, as an ant, you have four arms available, each of which carries a weapon to use. You’re able to use one pair of arms at a time, firing the guns held by those arms independently, and can swap between both pairs of arms at any time. While there’s no ammo system, firing weapons causes them to gradually heat up, so you’ll need to keep swapping in order to prevent guns from overheating and being disabled for a short time.
You’ll start off with a pistol in each arm, and can purchase a variety of weapons to equip. Want to fire a rocket launcher and minigun at the same time? No problem.
The option to purchase different weapons is a cool idea, but here’s where one of those accursed design decisions comes into play: You can only equip one of any particular game at once. If you wanted two rocket launchers, you’re out of luck.
The game levels themselves are adequate in design, if a little lackluster, but the main issue of MilitAnt comes with the enemy spawns. In an attempt to make the game suitably challenging, and perhaps to match the swarm motif of your enemies, you’ll find a lot of enemies popping up, though they spawn in the most awkward of places.
Foes will typically manage to land plenty of shots on you before you can react, and even though you can melee swipe shots to reflect them back, there’s no way to keep up with spawns most of the time. This is exacerbated by enemies spawning directly below you, pushing you up in the air with a “surprise!” as they proceed to beat on you.
Being a run and gun platformer/shooter, one of the biggest aspects to make or break a game is how fluid it feels with shooting down and blowing up enemies, and here MilitAnt really struggles. While analog sticks are put to good use to aim around your character, many enemies are in the unreachable background of the game (hence the “2.5D” aspect), and aiming at these is frustrating at best. Naturally, boss battles all make use of the 2.5D layers.
Aiming in the direction of those creatures won’t always move your targeting reticle to them, often instead sticking to aiming in front of your character. We found that not aiming at all, and relying on the aim assist MilitAnt builds into the game, seems to be the best way to target and hit those in the background layers, and yet this was too spotty to be reliable as well as going against the whole point of the genre. Nobody wants to play a run-and-gunner game where you’re not actually aiming.
We wanted to like MilitAnt. It promised to be a cross between the movie Antz and classic, 16bit era run-and-gunners like Gunstar Heroes or Contra. Instead we received a game that was frustrating in its artificial difficulty, with buggy (sorry) aim mechanics, and poor decisions such as weapons overheating far too quickly and the restrictions on weapon loadout. We can only hope that developers Xibalba learn from MilitAnt to produce a fantastic next game.