Yes, I know – It’s free game Friday on a Saturday. What are you gonna do about it?

The Last Antlion – A Gladiator style arena game currently free to play on Kongregate here, is the work of one man indie developer Shawn Kilian. Check out the game’s Twitter @TheLastAntLion.

We would usually wait until the following week to publish this article on the correct day, but it’s super important that we publish today. This game is competing admirably on Kongregate in their monthly contest – based on ratings and plays – and we wanted to help give it a boost as it comes in to the finish for June. Be sure to give this game a play and leave a rating today and tomorrow to help it out!

The premise of the game is a simple one. The Queen Ant has decreed that as an impure half Ant, half Lion hybrid race, you are unworthy, and as a result tortures Antlions by killing them off in her great Colosseum by pitting them against hordes of ant minions. As the last mighty gladiator of Antlion descent, you must fight off 8 waves of various dangerous ant warrior using your magical bow in order to upset The Queen Ant enough that she’ll come down from her ivory tower, and face you herself. This is your one chance to end her cruel game, and avenge your fallen comrades.

The Queen watches down at you from her royal fixture

The game’s 8 waves are very steep in their rate of difficulty, especially if you try to attack them all in the same way. The first wave of worker ants are simple enough, lumbering towards you slowly with their hard hats and giant hammers. But you’ll soon realise the game’s testing nature when you come across some of their more difficult colleagues. Mummy Ants for example spawn and move towards you very quickly, attacking you with leaping jumps. Electric Ants fire lightning bolts at you from a distance. My personal favourites, the Guard Ants were even more difficult to take care of – Arrows seemingly not working at all, instead rebounding off their shields and hitting me in my stupid face. I tried a number of jumping tactics to try to get behind them, as well as utilised my AntLion‘s roar (stun) attack all to no avail, before I eventually realised I was supposed to be using bombs to take the Guard Ants out in groups. It was at this point in the game that I realised that every wave of ants was its own individual puzzle to be solved. The game challenged to think about the most efficient and suitable way to take these guys out, and that’s where The Last AntLion shined brightest.

Ghost ants provide a challenge, warping in and out of ethereal mode, causing your arrows to pass right through.

Your arrows, bombs and potions are limited, but don’t fret! Ants will randomly drop these items on death that can keep you topped up. Keys are also dropped that can be used to unlock chests on the battlefield that offer further rewards.

At the end of each round, the Queen Ant will reward you with a random number of gold coins that can be used to to purchase a variety of upgrades from the shop, as well as top up on any arrows, bombs and potions that you might be low on. Upgrades vary, but could offer protection against a particular enemy’s attacks. If you were struggling with electric ants, for example, you could purchase the Ring of Lightning to protect yourself. If you had no particular difficulty with any one enemy, perhaps the Belt of Haste would be a good choice for you, upping your attack speed. Personally I found the Amulet of Time invaluable, which slowed down time by half when I was one hit away from death. I soon surmised that making the right upgrade choices was key to a successful run in The Last AntLion. In my first run I bought as many as possible, which left me short on standard supplies when it came to the crunch, ultimately resulting in me having to reside to defeat, with no arrows or bombs remaining. But The Last AntLion is designed to be failed at, learning from each run how to better attack the situation next time.

Choose carefully…

The controls are always displayed at the bottom of your screen, which is nice, using the arrow keys to move, space to jump, and then numbers 1, 2, 3 and 4 for your attacking and healing. Unfortunately there is no way to remap your keys, but there are a couple of alternative button set ups you can use. I found using the numbers a little odd to start with, and I do wish the game had controller support, but Shawn is very open to feedback in continuing to improve his game, so we could still see these these positive changes in future.

Mini bosses appear, offering up an extra challenge.

One of the game’s greatest strengths is its animation. The game looks great anyway in its 2D art style, but all the characters are professionally animated by pixel artist @bruno_corgo. Every death animation is unique for the enemy type, and extremely satisfying to watch. I was particularly fond of taking out the hilarious screaming fire ants, watching them crisp up in a giant flame, and turn to dust.

Fire ants are just brilliant.

The game sounds great too, with excellent FX and a musical track appropriate to the pace of the game – an uptempo blend of medieval instrumentation – it works brilliantly!

For those of you in the know about the natural world, you’ll know that Antlions are real things – quite harrowing little creatures that create pits in the Earth, and await unsuspecting ants, which makes this game all the funnier. Should an ant fall into the pit, the Antlion will reach out with its claws, drain the ant of its blood and discard the corpse. Nice, huh! While his Father was stationed in the U.S Air Force, Shawn found himself in Southern Australia as a kid, which is where he first encountered these little critters. It’s really worth checking out Shawn’s story and inspiration for the game on his blog here. There are pictures!

The Last AntLion is the perfect example of a short, difficult game done right.

The Last AntLion is the perfect example of a short, difficult game done right. Each wave is more thought out than the last, and a clear indication of Shawn learning as he went. It’s got a lot of character, and although the combat is simple in design, the thought put in to the ways in which you can utilise strategy is deceptively advanced. It’s available on Kongregate, but is also coming to Armor Games in July, and is hopeful for a Steam release in August. Anyone that can beat The Last AntLion on Kongregate will be rewarded with a free copy of the game on Steam – just forward a screenshot to Shawn!

Check out the full trailer below.

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