SimAnt - In-depth Written Review For The Amiga With Pics


SimAnt
Amiga, 1992*(N1)
Maxis
$59.95

*My video review for SimAnt
*Next article
*Alphabetical list of writings
*Game designed and best seen in NTSC mode with 4:3 aspect ratio
*(N1) Despite 1991 copyright, all research points to 1992 release

All of my retained knowledge on ants I owe exclusively to SimAnt. Not even school was as good a teacher on the subject as this 1992 Maxis title. It was the third in the "Sim" line of games. After SimCity and SimEarth, most were thinking universe for the next incarnation, instead it would come on the macro level. Originally designed on the Macintosh, ports to DOS, Windows 3, and the Amiga soon followed. 1993 would even see a console port on the Super Nintendo, albeit in a different form.
^Starting our brood

Despite being a part of a franchise, where you have a high risk of being formulaic, SimAnt would become something truly unique. Plopped at the far side of a suburban backyard, you start the game as a fertile ant female ready to start your reign as a new queen. Survey your soon to be kingdom and find a subtable spot to dig a nest. Once you start laying eggs, your flying days will be over, and control is transfered to the first ant to hatch, a "worker". Your newfound responsibilities to your queen will be to expand the nest, gather food, and protect your territory. 

^Dangers lurking

But dangers are abound in the outside world. A mere few feet for a human is like a mile to an ant. A tiny spider is a hulking giant, and much like humans, ants are in a near constant state of war with their very own species. So alike are your rival ants to your own, yet their color makes them so very different... So different we humans are to ants, yet at the exact same time, so alike...
^Assuming the role of queen, weather

The game is officially classified as a simulation, yet strategy and even educational could also apply. On the strategy front are numerous statistical graphs to pour over, reminiscent of the flagship SimCity. Will you seek out new food supplies ahead of the red ants, defending it against them, starving them of subsistence? How about a sneak attack against their queen while they are still weak? Will you tend to your queen, perhaps become the queen in order to to lay eggs more frequently, increasing your numbers? Will you prioritize new breeding in order to spread your seed further onto the vast universe that is the humans backyard?

^Numbers on our side, it's time for war!

Maxis would dub the game as a "software toy", much like their previous installments in the sim line. A game where you set your own goals. Where you can do whatever it is that you want to do. A game that ends only when you decide it is time for it to end. In this vein, I find SimAnt to be least deserving in the Sim line to be called a software toy. While this is presented as a vast game with much freedom, you do indeed have a strict end goal in mind.

The quest in the full game is to defeat every last red ant in the yard, as well as populate enough of the yard and house to send the human running. Once this has occurred, the game will be over and you will be presented a score. It's actually the most "game" out of any Sim game. Depending on your own point of view, this could be a great thing if you always found the Sim games lacking as overall games. You could find it awful if you loved the freedom those other games offered you. Or you might just find it different, a truly unique game standing out against the others. ^Spreading outward, we've gained the attention of the human

For me it's in that unique category, something different and something special, yet inviting and familiar. I indeed have learned a great deal about ants from this very game. Not only through playing it and observing their behavior, as your very own electronic ant farm, but through the incredible in-game encyclopedia on ants, as well as one of the single best game manuals to have ever been written. Close to two hundred pages of manual covering not only how to play the game, but everything most could ever want to know about the species. Topics on not only ants, but insects in general, their role on our planet, and even some cute cartoon strips to keep the kids interested. ^Beyond incredible

It certainly kept this kid interested back in the day. I recall making my way through that manual, and years later when science classes would bring up ants, I found my knowledge on the subject to already have been rather well versed. Certainly not an educational game in the normal sense. There's nothing about SimAnt that screams that it was designed for the kiddies, it's much the opposite as a matter of fact, it feels like it's designed for an adult. Perhaps that's what could make this the greatest educational game there ever was. By not talking down to its audience, by catering to the adults, but incorporating simulation and strategy elements, a game was created that was fun to play, but made you want to turn the page, to learn more. ^Encroaching on the human

If the topic of ants and the genius of making a quality game out of them is not interesting for you, SimAnt is a rather interesting piece in the history of Maxis' Sim line, specifically what would become the best selling in that line, and what was once the top selling of all PC games, "The Sims". That game was a direct decedent of the human interaction in this game. Little Computer People was the spiritual inspiration for what would become the Sims, but prior to that, it was the inspiration for the human in SimAnt. With the human living life in his house and yard, we have the same basic look of The Sims world, nearly a decade prior. It's sometimes tempting to ignore the ant world in favor of spying on the humans latest desires. ^Quite an early example of an in-game tutorial, and "experimental mode"

Beyond the "full game" mode, there is also a "quick game". It's essentially you versus the red ants on a single plot of land, minus the kingdom building aspect of conquering the human. SimAnt must have one of the very first examples of a true in-game tutorial. In the tutorial mode text will pop up and walk you through how to play the game. The most "software toy" this game gets is in its "experimental mode". There you have access to a rather disappointing set of God options to play around with. I never personally spent too much time in this mode, as it simply is lacking in overall options. As the human, you don't even have the option of experimenting on the ants inside your home, stuck on one plot of land outside. Feels like a last minute addition to the game, rather than a full game mode. ^Secrets near the bottom of your nest, our final assault on the red ants, winning the game

Sadly for me, the game lacks any difficulty settings. If not for checking out several others experiences playing the game, I'd be very tempted to call it too easy. I've noticed others seem to have quite a bit of difficulty getting through this one, but it's certainly easy to me at this point. I beat it multiple times in the 1990's as a kid, recording my high scores at the end of the manual (I scored better as a kid). Prior to writing this review, I had forced myself to play and record the game three separate times over the last year, all because I was worried my last play went too easily. This could certainly just be a symptom of my familiarity with the game, though I did note a couple reviews when the game was new that also noted its perceived lack of difficulty. I feel the potential for a more challenging game is all there, it just needs a difficulty slider.

The Amiga version is a faithful port of the original Macintosh. Unique to the Amiga is the ability to play in both a low and high resolution. 640x400 high resolution mode requires between one and two megabytes of chip RAM, and is best used with an accelerated Amiga. 320x200 low resolution zooms you in a little bit, making it playable on an NTSC stock Amiga 500. Reviews in PAL territories noted sluggishness in the game, but all American reviews were nothing but glowing toward it. Sounds are excellent and the odd animation cut scene immerses you in this ant universe. You can't go wrong playing any of the PC variants of SimAnt, and it's certainly worth getting for your Amiga.

It's always been a blast for me to play. If I'm cool with playing and recording a game three separate times in a year, then I certainly had fun with it. If you've never played this game before, I believe you'll be needing to put your thinking cap on for the first time, and multiple playthroughs will only further your strategies. SimAnt was the first of its kind, and it's really the only of its kind in terms of AAA ant games. Play, have fun, learn. I hope you'll check out my video review for SimAnt, where I read from several magazine reviews from back in the day, as well as check out that incredible manual up close. Readers of this might also be interested in my video reviews for SimCity and Little Computer People.

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