Release Date: July 25, 2006
In The Ant Bully, the protagonist Lucas Nickle is your normal average 10-year-old kid who has just moved to a new town. He has no friends and has become a target for the neighborhood bully, so he takes out his anger on the ants in his backyard, tormenting them with everything from garden hoses to the classic magnifying glass. Unfortunately for Lucas, this particular colony of ants is a bit smarter than most. Using a magic potion, they shrink Lucas to ant size and refuse to allow him to return home until he learns what being an ant is truly about. Based on the summer movie of the same name, The Ant Bully begins immediately after Lucas has been reduced to ant size. With the aid of the colony, Lucas must learn to be an ant if he ever wants to defeat the evil Cloud Breather and get home.
Lucas will receive missions from the four leader ants, and then wander around the ant colony trying to complete them. Fugax the Scout Ant, voiced by the excellent Bruce Campbell, provides you with combat missions into enemy territory; Hova the Nurse Ant asks you to take care of larvae and young ants; Kreela the Forager Ant asks for help collecting food and teaches Lucas the power of teamwork. Zoc the Wizard, the final mission provider, tests Lucas' resolve and provides him with upgrades that move him ever closer to true anthood.
This mission-based structure seems to add a bit of spice to The Ant Bully's gameplay, but in reality, each of the four leaders tends to give very similar missions. Be it collecting ant larvae, Fruit Loops (dubbed Sweet Rings in ant language), or fire crystals, almost every mission comes down to a series of tedious fetch quests. The few missions that are not fetch quests are escort missions, guarding ants or caterpillars against the relentless attacks of earwigs and pill bugs. While fun at first, this quickly grows mind-numbing after the fifth mission in a row of the ant version of "Find the Keycard."
Being an ant is no easy task, and it's even harder when you're not born as one. Lucas starts naked and unarmed, with none of the abilities that make his new ant allies so resilient. As the game progresses and Lucas learns more of the way of the ants, he gains new abilities and equipment. These upgrades range from a simple wooden stick to use as a weapon to the ability to command ants via telepathy. These abilities get more powerful over time as well. Lucas goes from being able to climb for a few seconds and lift small objects to the 10-year-old equivalent of Spider-Man, easily able to lift massive objects over his head and climb to incredible heights. These abilities attempt to keep the game fresh, but most of them only find purpose in making combat go by quicker. The exception is telepathy, a rather interesting ability that allows Lucas to use his fellow ants to create bridges, towers, or other structures to cross seemingly impassable areas.
The Ant Bully controls are incredibly similar to Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, which is both a blessing and a curse for the player. For experienced players of Zelda, the control scheme is instantly familiar, which is a boon since the title lacks any form of tutorial. The analog stick moves Lucas around, A lets you roll, B attacks with Lucas' staff, and the various items you get are mapped to the other buttons. The L button activates the lock-on, which is identical to Zelda's Z-Targeting, right down to the screen becoming letterboxed. Thanks to the familiar system, the combat is quick and easy to get used to, although those unfamiliar with Zelda will need a bit more time to get used to controlling Lucas.
However, despite the easy controls, fighting is more of a chore than a challenge due to the shoddy hit detection. Lucas can attack quickly, but the range of his staff rarely seems to match which enemies get hit. Often a spider right in Lucas' face will suffer no damage, while a pill bug well outside the range of his weapon is defeated. This strange invincibility works in both directions; an enemy's attack will pass right through Lucas almost as often as it hits him. It can be very frustrating to take damage from an attack simply because Lucas' staff missed every single enemy in range, and when trapped between two powerful enemies, it can quickly lead to Lucas' untimely demise. Fighting multiple foes is a real chore, as the controls do not allow for quick switching between targets. Even fighting from a distance doesn't ease things because at long range, the lock-on feature is especially inaccurate. It's far too easy to miss shots from the ranged weaponry despite a perfect lock, which is made more annoying by the issues with hit detection.
The biggest problem with the game comes in the platforming action. Like Zelda, The Ant Bully lacks any type of jump button; instead, you run off the edge of the platform and automatically jump. This causes more frustration than anything else, as Lucas rarely likes to grab on to the edge of the platform you are aiming for unless you are pixel-perfect with your jump. Combined with the fact that the items required for the game's many fetch quests are located at the end of platforming puzzles means lots of irritation for very little payoff. The addition of a jump button would have made The Ant Bully a much better game, and its absence is sorely obvious.
The world Lucas has to explore is larger than life and does a very good job giving the player a feel of being ant-sized. Everything in the game is bigger than Lucas, with the exception of the piranha-like predator bugs, which make up for their small stature by swarming the player. Blades of grass, leaves, and flowers tower over Lucas, forming interesting surroundings to explore. Despite the impressive sense of scale, the environment you can explore is repetitive, blocky, and full of identical textures and models, making every level look the same. The character models are amazingly simplistic and poorly rendered, looking more like a first-generation PlayStation 2 game than a last-generation GameCube title. You'll face the same few enemies over and over, sometimes with minor changes in color. After the 90th time fighting the same pill bugs in the same bland environments, you'll wonder what the point is in continuing.
The Ant Bully's audio experience is a very mixed bag. Some of the voice actors from the movie return for the game, including Zach Tyler as the voice of Lucas and Bruce Campbell as Fugax the Scout, both of whom do an excellent job in reprising their roles. Unfortunately, many of the other ants are replaced by sound-alikes who sound particularly dull when compared with Campbell's heartfelt reading. On top of that, the speech skips quite often, and characters will frequently cut each other off in mid-sentence, talk at the same time, or repeat the same phrases over and over again. This is especially noticeable in rescue missions, which can make the already-monotonous missions agonizing. The music, on the other hand, is rather good. No song is particularly memorable, but the background music sets the mood very well and rarely detracts from the gaming experience.
For all of The Ant Bully's flaws, it succeeds in what it set out to do: Provide more time in the film's world for the fans. There were some obvious attempts to bring the game beyond the usual mediocre fare provided by film-to-game adaptations, but the few bright parts are eclipsed by the repetitive gameplay, lackluster graphics and atrocious controls. More frustrating than fun, fans of the movie would be much better off giving The Ant Bully a rental.
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