Published on May 13th, 2013 | by Joe Matar2
Tentacle Wars Review
Tentacle Wars is an interesting beast. Its presentation gives off a puzzle vibe, but there’s a lot of strategy to it, too. Furthermore, though you must make thoughtful decisions, you often need to do so quickly and deftly, giving it a bit of an action flavor as well. It all adds up to an engaging, addictive title. However, the difficulty may be off-putting for some players.
There are 4 worlds in Tentacle Wars with 20 levels in each. In each level, you are given limited control over some green cells that are at war with differently colored (blue, red, and purple) cells. The number of cells and their placements varies from level to level, but how you interact with them comes down to a few mechanics. First, dragging your finger from one of your cells to an enemy cell connects a tentacle to that cell and begins sapping its energy to turn it to over to the green side. You can also link up with another green cell to give it some backup power with which to gang up on the other cells. You win a level by eradicating it of everything but green cells. The challenge comes from all the other cells having the same propagation goal, making for an all-out zygote brawl.
A number on each cell shows how much power it has before its conversion to a different color. If a cell is left alone or has a friendly cell linked up to it, this number will gradually increase. Cells expend power when grappling with enemy cells. You’re able to disconnect tentacles by swiping through them. Disconnecting a cell near its host means the majority of the tentacle will disappear into the cell it is attempting to overtake. This knocks the competing cell’s power level down quickly, but also means a significant dip in power for your own cell. You can also cut the tentacle at the far end to take it back and regain some power. Much of the game’s strategy comes from choosing when to band together to fight and when to back off and recoup your losses.
In the third world, the game introduces a new type of cell that can absorb both ally and enemy cells and can spawn further absorption cells. This adds a very different gameplay style. Where some levels are about watch-and-wait, strategic cell warfare, these levels can take on a more action-oriented, Pac-Man-esque feel as you move your absorption cell around a maze, sucking up other cells on the path to osmosis victory.
Tentacle Wars is difficult. Firstly, it could explain itself a little better. Tutorial levels aren’t too detailed and I spent a good chunk of time frustrated because I felt I was playing without really understanding the rules. In addition, the game is pretty relentless early on. The AI-controlled cells are clever and the second world introduces purple cells, which are even more intelligent. However, through perseverance, it became all the more rewarding as I developed better strategies and found myself able to dominate in situations I had previously felt helpless.
Still, replaying levels several times is basically a given. Some of the frustration is alleviated by the branching manner in which levels unlock so that if one is stumping you you can tackle another. You’re also given syringes that will instantly turn a cell green. You only get five for the entire game unless you spend real-life money on more. I wouldn’t call this a paywall. It’s not like the game unexpectedly ramps up the difficulty as it’s hard throughout. Furthermore, if you’re cheating your way through a puzzle/strategy game, you’re kind of missing the point. You’re awarded stars (out of three) depending on how quickly you finish a level and the game voices its disapproval by dropping you down to one star on any level in which you resort to a syringe.
Tentacles Wars’ presentation consists of simple imagery with effective animation. The background is always black though with a bit of organic white weirdness floating about and the cells are circles with little tendrils waving to-and-fro. Tentacles slither out zig-zaggingly and attach with small jolts. Combined with the minimalist background music track (as in one), it accomplishes a creepy tone that makes you want to fight back against these nasty parasites. It also becomes strangely beautiful in more complex levels with tentacles of multiple colors crisscrossing and creating interesting, geometric designs.
The joy of Tentacle Wars is in how creative it gets with only a few core mechanics. Simply by building upon its earlier ideas and changing up the layout in each level, it manages to alternate between being strategic, brain-teasing, and action-oriented—sometimes all three at once. 80 levels is a lot of content for less than $2 and you can also unlock randomly-generated levels by rating the game in the appstore (which is slightly, but not hugely, obnoxious). It’d be nice if it eased the player into its world more gently, but, if you can find your footing with Tentacle Wars, it’s extremely fun and rewarding.
Summary: Difficulty might put some off. Creepy tentacles might put off others. Everyone else is gonna have a blast.