For all its shortcomings, Tentacle Wars is the sort of finger-friendly real-time strategy game that the iPad needs. Based on a two-year-old Flash game, it drafts players into a microscopic war against an alien disease, casting users as the commander of an army of tentacle-covered antibodies.
With taps and swipes you’ll occupy cells by stretching and connecting lengthy tentacles from the antibodies under your control to either enemy cells (who will fight back) or unclaimed territory. Sending out a tentacle to attack uses up resources and weakens the attacking cell, so there’s a constant balance between aggression and patient defense that must be managed in order to overrun and wipe out the disease.
Tentacle Wars is published by FDG, which is doing its best impression of Chillingo: There’s a three-star rating system, the levels are short and divided into themed worlds, and there’s a big page advertising “MORE LEVELS COMING SOON!” If you’ve played any iOS games at all, you know how this works.
It’s nice to know that more levels are coming soon, especially since there are barely any as of right now. The single player campaign is comprised of just 40 bite-sized levels, and the multiplayer is even more limited, with just five stages that get repetitive within half a dozen short sessions.
But Tentacle Wars‘ biggest issue is a result of its user-friendly simplicity. It took me only two hours to discover a small set of rules that propelled me to a three-star rating in almost every level:
Always keep your antibodies connected, using all of your available tentacles.
Move quickly to capture new cells if there’s an opening.
Don’t let the opponent take the center.
That’s pretty much it. Everything after that comes down to speedy execution; in online multiplayer matches between two players who understand those rules, the player with the quicker fingers will always win.
As a result, Tentacle Wars is a lovely diversion that players will forget about three hours after buying it. The potential is there for it to become something much deeper and more satisfying, had the developers slowly introduced some more basic mechanics (maybe different types of antibodies or power-ups) over the course of a longer campaign. But they didn’t. That bums me out, because Tentacle Wars has almost everything –– a great soundtrack, perfect controls, very clean UI design –– but it sets its gameplay ambitions too low.
WIRED Fun strategy gameplay that works beautifully on iPad, snazzy soundtrack.
TIRED Not enough content, too few gameplay mechanics to remain interesting long-term.