Microbe Kombat


JoshMicrobe KombatI'll admit it; I chuckled a bit when I saw the name of Hero Interactive's newest title over at Armor Games. In today's world of beefed-up fighting games with extravagant characters and ridiculously-complex moves, it's nice to see an homage to the simplest, most primitive form of combat there is... Microbe Kombat! You're a weakly little microorganism in a big world (a Petri dish?) filled with other microbes and bacteria, and it's survival of the fittest in there. Forget about chucking "Hadoken!" fireballs at your opponents or giving them the old "Roundhouse-to-Dragon Uppercut" routine. No, grasshopper—this is Darwinian fighting style at its most primeval. Binding to proteins, self-replication through division and eating other microbes... these are your signature moves.

Obviously, your goal as a microbe is to grow and survive. But don't let that premise fool you into thinking this is a slow-paced simulation. It's an action game at its core, with a little bit of puzzle/strategy thrown in to make things a bit more interesting. A variation of the classic "big fish eats smaller fish" game mechanic, you begin your microbe life small as can be, "eating" protein (and other microbes) to get larger. Control your microbe with the mouse; it will simply follow your cursor around the screen, consuming protein and microbes it comes in contact with.

You win when you've eaten all enemy microbes in each level. But there's a catch: your rival microbes can eat you if they get big enough, which they'll try to do by gobbling up proteins before you can reach them first. Things get even more competitive when your rival microbes begin dividing; they're small at first, but all it takes is a little time before they get big enough to divide again, exponentially ganging up on you.

Microbe KombatFear not, because you have this ability as well, so you can divide and try to match the enemy's muscle. Your ally microbes will seek out protein on their own while avoiding bigger enemies at the same time. You're not without a few other abilities as well, like temporary boosts of speed, size or dynamically switching control to any of your allies. You even have some neat tricks like sacrificing one of your allies to explode and destroy nearby enemies. All these abilities and power-ups are gained by eating proteins. Up to six of them will stack as icons on the right side of the screen. You can use them by clicking the icons with your mouse, or pushing the corresponding [1] through [6] as hotkeys. I recommend the latter, since your mouse cursor is used to guide your microbe. You can pause the game by pushing [P], and configure the hotkeys in the settings menu.

Analysis: My biggest issue with this game is the sheer difficulty in eating other microbes, from a control mechanic standpoint. You can't just pass over smaller microbes to eat them like you can with proteins. To consume an enemy microbe, you need to be following it from behind, get close enough until your microbe opens its mouth, and hope the enemy didn't move away too quickly before you chomp down. I realize the game probably would have been too easy if you just had to touch a smaller microbe to eat it, but the mechanic as-is needs improvement. Unless the developers fix this, the best technique I can recommend is to give enemy microbes a bit of "lead" when pursuing them. For example, position your cursor ahead of them a bit, trying to mimic their path as your microbe comes up from behind.

Other than this annoying control issue, Microbe Kombat is a nice little top-down game reminiscent of flOw, but only in the aesthetic and conceptual sense. This game has a strategy that's unique and engaging, allowing you to choose between an aggressive "hit-and-run" approach and the more defensive "strength in numbers" tactic. The various abilities at your disposal add even more depth to the game's strategy, as do the infectious (and immune) organisms in later levels. Coupled with the ambient music soundtrack and elegant, minimalistic graphics, it's a fun and stylish little game that almost anyone can enjoy.

Play Microbe Kombat

Note: If you're having trouble figuring out how to start the game from the title menu, just look for the triangle-shaped microbe. ;)

22 Comments

This game is fun, and just tricky enough to burn 10 minutes.
I had issues with some of the abilities, though - Like, the "switch microbe" ability requires you to not only activate the ability, but then click on the microbe you want to switch to. Since the mouse controls the movement of your primary microbe as well, that guy is going to move around randomly as you attempt to get your cursor over the one you want to switch to.

Similar problem with the "sacrifice" ability.

I enjoyed playing through the game, though I think there's a loophole in some of the rules regarding large microbes.

When you're at the maximum size, where eating protein no longer increases your size, nothing can harm you... the viruses don't seem to eat through you faster than you can gather proteins to sustain yourself. At this point, you can just swim around waiting for the large enemy microbes to split, and then gobble them up. It seems like there should be a downside to not splitting when you can.

Bizarrely enough, it's still possible to win if your only microbe has been infected. If you just keep eating proteins, you should live long enough to eat all the enemies.

Nice idea, nice graphics, somehow unlucky game design, as neither the game mechanics and the game controlls just really wont work well to give a satisfying game.... hmm.

This game doesn't seem stimulating enough. It reminds me too much of Spore in a way that really bugs me. I guess it was a good idea.

Did the designer even play his own game once? Splitting offers no benefits other than that you can blow up your split off partner, which is almost never helpful. The game stalemates once you're at the largest size, except that the computer stupidly keeps splitting and letting you eat it. The only challenge is in the first 5 seconds -- if an enemy eats you then before you can manage the awkward controls, game over. Otherwise, not. None of the abilities is particularly useful or necessary. Horrible execution.

I think it's safe to say the developers DID play their own game. In fact, I just had a little chat with Jared about his company's game and this is what he had to say about splitting:

"Splitting allows you to cover more screen area, and each time your allies eats gets a protein you get more action icons. In addition, action icons can get you around sticky situations and overtake the enemy much much faster. Also, if your ally is bigger than you, you can switch to them. I wouldn't split often, but there are certainly times where it's beneficial."

"Especially in levels that have lots of units, it's hard to cover the whole screen. When it's you vs. 1 guy, no problem getting everything. But when it's you vs 8 guys, it's hard to beat them to the punch. As far as when you get big, for the most part, you can't lose; but we have viruses that shrink you, and in later levels there are many of them as well as enemies that are immune to infection, which adds a degree of difficulty, although I certainly wouldn't say the game is hard."

I really like the game! I think it has a lot of complexity, beautiful scenery and a simplistic and addicting approach to the 10 minute game.

I have to agree with Gambarooni. When you look at the screenshots of this game, you think wow this must be cool. If you actually play it, somehow I always got the feeling I didn't get it.

Well about this 1vs8 issue. Well its still splitting is not a smart move. You need to survive the first few seconds to get a few proteines to get bigger, so you are not eaten so fast. Once you are big, there is nothing really encoraging in splitting. And my splits usually just get eaten, or infect themselves with virus. So no split. Just sit there and wait for the computer to split, than eat them. Rinse and repeat. The other abilities are not all that much useful either.. Growth is the only one I really like, especially in the beginning as it brings you to the "safe state" much faster.

Viruses do not change much in this game. Just don't eat viruses until you are a bit bigger, and then don't care if you get infected. You can out-eat the virus working in you easily.

They may be up to something with this game, but yet its IMHO not really there. Not really working out as a game.

Hi everyone, thanks for all the great feedback- both criticism and support. We certainly appreciate them both.

Jay already posted some of my comments (thanks Jay!) so I don't want to try and defend against every single criticism- some of them are very much warranted. It's a simple and small game that's trying to experiment with some new gameplay. It's certainly not very difficult and there are certainly some mechanics that could be improved. Overall though, we're very pleased with the game. If you're looking for something to occupy hours of your time, you'll likely be disappointed; but if you're looking for a fun 10-15 minutes of experimentation, I think/hope you'll enjoy it.

@fuzzyface - The other abilities are meant to help your allies from getting eaten. Speed Boost and the Super Growth don't just affect you- they affect your whole team. That can massively turn the tide depending on your numbers. A simple speed boost alone will prevent your enemies from getting eaten, and they'll likely snatch up other proteins and grow out of edible range.

Viruses can both help you as you described, but in the later levels where enemies are immune to viruses, they can prove to be an obstacle. I've died many times. Still, I agree with you, it's not overly challenging.

The idea that I got when I first heard about this game was that you could choose what to evolve onto your microbes, without directly controlling them. Sort of like the Pandemic games, except it's microbe vs. microbe instead of microbe vs. human. By the way, I'm new. Hey everyone.

Looks like SOMEONE just played Spore.

"Splitting allows you to cover more screen area, and each time your allies eats a protein you get more action icons."

This is a perfectly valid explanation, so I can understand where you guys were coming from (thanks for responding by the way! That's what's so great about jayisgames, is it gets the players and the game creators closer together).

But after playing the game for a while, I found one of the things keeping me from wanting to split is it was just too easy to aquire proteins alone, even after I'd grow large and become slightly slower (which meant I got all those action icons anyway). And since you only ever get one protein at a time - which meant there was never a moment where both me and an enemy could eat a protein at the same time - having one microbe monopolize the food just ended up making the most sense organically. Especially with the speed-boost to aide in overtaking the other hungry fellas. Along with that, I didn't see any scoring benefit for having more than one microbe alive at the end of a level (I may not have noticed though).

I can think of two possible ways to encourage splitting: 1) proteins that can't be eaten by large microbes. If it's randomized, of course, that means allowing more than one protein to exist on the screen at a time (and increasing their frequency) which I feel is in no way a negative thing. 2) enemy microbes that are capable of growing larger than you, but are vulnerable to tiny allies. Reversing the mechanic keeps players on their toes and forces them to forgo their precious giant microbe.

I also wonder if capping the microbe's size is happening too early. I find myself eating way more proteins per level than my microbe ever actually grows from. Extending the cap would at least delay the inevitable stalemate, if nothing else. Plus then we'd end up sometimes with screen-filling monstrosities, and who WOULDN'T want that? :p

Another thing, regarding the speed boost - I found it to be overpowered when going after proteins, but particularly useless when trying to eat enemies. Not because of the enemies, but because of my microbe: it always moved a little too fast to complete its eating animation before overtaking its prey. I found this kind of frustrating since at first it seemed like something I should be able to do. I think instead, you should give the speed-boost the caveat that you just plain *won't* eat enemies while in that mode. It would save people the trouble of trying.

I normally wouldn't spend so much time critiquing a simple game like this, but I really like the art (especially the delightful squiggly mouth animation) and want this game's mechanics to be on the same level of awesome.

I would have liked some customation for my microbe...

I think that the complexity of the action abilities are immense I spent a long time playing this game and have beaten it a few times now.

It seems there are a lot of unexplored strategies by a few of the other reviewers based on their comments so far. For example in order to speed up the rate at which your enemy's get infected you can split your guy then purposely infect yourself and try to die near an enemy. It works even better if you wait till your infected then split and die from the virus making 3 additional viruses appear on the screen.

The protein rate seems a bit to complicated to just raise all willy nilly. as it stands the game seems pretty balanced and has a very realistic feel to it. Because of this some players may not like the sit around and wait for your enemy to make a mistake but it is also very easy to die yourself on almost every level. I think it simulates both the randomness and simplistic nature of microbe survival. Eat or be eaten.

Great tutorial, appealing interface, and something I enjoyed playing very much :)

The "cover more screen" argument is the kind of thing that makes me think the designers didn't really play their own game. It's an explanation that makes sense from an abstract design standpoint, but falls apart when you get into the game.

Maybe I'm too good at this game (unlikely, I would think) but I only died once or twice, on the last couple levels, and only when I was eaten in the opening moves (i.e., before more than one or two proteins had appeared). Once you've got a couple proteins (i.e., once you're large enough to think about splitting) it's unlikely that there will be any enemies large enough to eat you; if there are, you can dodge them.

At that point, the following happens: I outmaneuver the enemies pretty easily, and reach full size. However, because they start larger than me and get a couple of proteins here and there, they're all too big for me to eat. At that stage, I would be *disadvantaged* by covering more of the screen because the strategy is to let the enemy get the proteins so they're big enough to split, and then small enough to eat.

So there are three things you need to be able to do to win: (1) avoid enemies in the opening pass; (2) eliminate enemies once you've reached the stalemate where you're both too large to eat each other; and (3) catch and eat enemies once they're small enough to eat.

The special abilities don't help to do any of these things. They come too late, typically, to help with #1. They don't help with #2 because you can't grow large enough to eat them even with a powerup; speed doesn't help; stunning them (which never worked for me) doesn't help; and explosions don't seem to kill them once they're past a certain size (although I might be wrong). TAbilities also don't help with #3. They should, but in fact catching enemies doesn't require speed or size (since you're already at full size), just precision moving.

Since the only thing splitting even *theoretically* helps with is getting more abilities, it has no evident upside.

How can you lose? Only one way: (a) be smaller than the enemy while (b) not being able to navigate well enough to avoid him. Can splitting cause this to happen? Obviously so. (A) It shrinks you; by increasing the number of microbes on the screen, it increases the chance that viruses spread (and they shrink you, too). (B) Selecting abilities, like split, with the mouse causes you to miscontrol your microbe, often leading to your death. Even when you use the hotkeys, using abilities can distract you from ducking and weaving.

Like I said, I found the game a total breeze, but quite boring. I typically like the big fish, small fish eating games, but this one just doesn't work. Looks nice, well polished, but no fun.

I liked this game a lot. Yes, it was easy, which leaves room for a second harder one. It was almost like that was the easy level of the game, but still good. Now we need one that is past the learning stage.

When eating enemies, you have to open your mouth before you can gobble them, this can give the enemies time to get away and it's very frustrating. It's easier to just eat them immediately after touching them.
The problems I have with splitting is that you can't switch between allies right away, but have to gain it as a power. You should be able to do it right from the beginning. When you switch to another one, the biggest one splits immediately, allows it to be more vulnerable. Don't do that either.

You should also make the other microbes you're not controlling be smart enough to protect themselves and eat other enemies, which is the whole point of splitting. When I'm not controlling something it just goes randomly, not do anything at all (excepr for eating a few proteins, but that's it) and get itself killed.

Enemies should also be able to eat each other, to make it a fish-eat0fish world.
Another bad thing is that I can't pause the game while I'm playing, make an autopause feature.

I wish that I could pause the game and then still be able to read the labels of the actions that pop up!
Why do I have to be constantly moving? At one point in the game, I was right next to the red protein dot but my microbe would not eat it. Instead it swam in a frantic orbit around it until my opponent crawled in and gobbled it up.
I like the game overall, though. There's moments in it where I finally am able to split and increase my numbers, but it just happens to be at the point when my opponent decides to eat all the little floating baby microbes.
NOO! MY BABIES! *nyom nyom nyom*
I like the style of animation especially. :)

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