The first time I saw Battle Bugs I thought I was watching one of those nature programmes -except they weren't stripping the flesh from a living cameraman while his comrades filmed it, they were just standing about in funny outfits. One of the first things you have to do when you load it is learn to resist the temptation to keep stamping on the screen. You'll realise eventually that it harms the monitor rather than the insects, and that the insects are only pictures, but it might take a while. In the meantime, you might like to ponder exactly what it is about insects that makes them such victims. Is it their body language? That strange, hunched walk most of them seem to affect? Whatever it is, it makes one automatically raise the Boot Of Doom. Maybe it doesn't affect you personally in this way, but there are definitely two categories of life form - those that get stamped on, and those that don't. With most people, it's insects; with me, it's insects and small children.
Put aside your boots, though, and come with me into the fascinating world of insect war. There are two ways to play the game. The one-player mode pits you against the wily old computer in a series of missions that generally come into one of two categories: taking over or defending certain items of food in the area, or beating the enemy forces into the dirt (the latter, you'll be pleased to learn, also helps considerably in the pursuit of the former). There's a time limit for you to achieve these goals. Usually it's quite a generous one -especially in my case: I found no trouble getting annihilated long before the time was up. It helps that you can stop the action at any point to give different orders to your insects, at which point the clock also stops. Instructions are made via a pop-up icon thingy, and include attacking a certain bug, defending a specified area, throwing an explosive device at somebody, and suchlike attractions.
You have three chances to crack each mission, after which, rather kindly, you're offered the option to skip it and go on to the next. After the first few tutorial missions, the difficulty level jumps about a bit - you might get a relatively easy one after a nightmare one - so if you're the kind of wuss who likes to cheat and move on, you won't necessarily find the next mission even harder. On the other hand, it may just be a matter of milliseconds before the segments start to fly.
The two-player mode gives you exactly the same missions, but one of you takes the side of the computer's forces. This means, of course, that the one with the computer's gang usually has a slight advantage, computers being what they are (sneaky, conniving, cheating gits). It's played by sharing the same PC - in fact, you share the same mouse, taking it in turns to give orders. The time clock works in a different way in two-player mode: each player starts with a set amount of time, and has to click on the stopwatch before giving an order - the time then ticks down until orders are completed, the watch is clicked again, and your brave multi-legged boyos pile in once more. To introduce an element of handicapping, you can give different amounts of time to each player at the start of the game. (Or simply unplug the mouse when it's your opponent's go.)
There's rather too much trust involved in the two-player mode for my liking. You're supposed to look away while your opponent makes his moves, wait patiently while eight million orders are given, altered and generally fiddled with, and he's supposed to do the same for you. Unsurprisingly, this introduces more tension and unpleasantness than the game itself: it only takes an accusation of mouse-hoggery for fists to fly (or boots, if you're playing an insect chum). And who's to say the evil "I'm still setting orders" ploy won't be used, where you set the action going, allowing an entire army to pound the casing off your opponent's favourite cockroach while they have their back turned in the belief that you're still giving orders. All in all, it's nice that they've tried to introduce a two-player option, but it's not all that successful.
Each insect type has a supply of energy, handily displayed in a bar, which allows it to leap about and kick people in their intimate areas and which runs out pretty quickly once their own intimate areas come in for similar punishment. Each also has specific attack and defend ratings, ranging from the Mike Tyson-like Rhinoceros Beetle and Praying Mantis to the Russell Grant-like Moth and Water Bug. Others have special skills - ants can throw bombs. Medic ants heal the injured and Commanders boost the performance of those around them by their very presence. It's sort of like having a six-legged Vera Lynn in the squad, but the singing isn't as disturbing.
Ideally, you should use these types skilfully and with consummate timing to rout the computer-controlled enemy; unfortunately, I usually found that they generally seem to have more insects, of better quality, than you do, and winning through is never easy. In case you can't hack it, the game comes with a solution to every mission, but sometimes even following the instructions I still found it difficult. That's probably partly because I'm crap, but partly it's to do with the nature of the battles. The forces of Them are usually stronger, so that those of Us have to adopt a particular strategy. Generally it involves taking out one of the more powerful opponents with two or more of your own. Timing can be so crucial to a mission, that if one of your insects arrives at a set point slightly too late, the whole thing falls apart. Although you can skip the mission that's causing you problems, most people will probably want to finish it before proceeding, and when you see that you can't do it even with the instructions, it makes you lose faith in the game.
Aside from this, it's also a very fiddly game to play. You have to click the right part of an insect to call up its instructions, and often have to click the instruction you want more than once before it registers. Then there's the general twee-ness of it all; the appallingly "cute" voice used to give you your orders at the start of a mission will have you choosing to enter the mission without instructions to save vomit collecting on your keyboard. And cartoony Figures saluting when you give them orders, and "comically" hitting and stomping each other wear thin fairly quickly - I'd give it about three seconds. The constant need to click on the clock makes it a very stop-start affair, too.
Arcadey or light-hearted strategy games have been tried before with different degrees of success. I suppose my lack of enthusiasm is because I prefer my tactical scrapping to be more along the lines of Cannon Fodder or Dune II- fast and seamless. This might appeal more to the people who like full-blown strategy games, but who fancy using bees and spiders instead of helicopters and tanks - if there are such people. It's not that badly done, it's just not my bag (man).