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August 2, 2013

Desktop Tower Defense

On Internet, Flash games are a huge fad. With some knowledge of a program called Adobe Flash, one can make excellent animated short films, and with an even more extended knowledge of the software, it's possible to create Flash games. Those are literally games that can be played on the Internet, using the computer's features: The mouse and the keyboard. There's probably more Flash games on Internet than there's been games released for all existing consoles, and this is because anyone with a solid basis in Adobe Flash can make a game. Of course, as a result, the quality in the games can vary heavily, and you can also get games that would never be allowed on a real console.

Is it normal, then, that a game released on the Nintendo DS feels more like a cheap Flash game? NO!

Let me introduce you then to another genre of game you probably never heard of: Tower Defense games. Personally, I love those. The idea behind those games is that you have a series of enemies progressing through a set pathway. Those enemies must be stopped, but how? Fairly simple: The player is given a number of “towers”, each with some particularity, and must place those towers around the enemies' pathway. The towers will then shoot the incoming enemies. When an enemy makes it through the field, you lose a life. Each tower can be upgraded a set amount of times, and becomes stronger with each upgrade. Also, each destroyed enemy will drop an amount of the game's currency, which will let you buy more upgrades and/or stronger towers. By definition, towers will attack the enemy that is closest to the exit, as it's the one that traveled the farthest. But in a few games, this can be changed. Also, the enemies come out in “waves”, and in some cases all the enemies of a wave must be defeated before going on to the next wave. Each creature has a Life Bar that must be depleted by the towers for the creature to disappear.

On paper, that's the basic idea. On Internet, it's awesome. On a game console... Not so much.

Desktop Tower Defense doesn't quite work like other tower defense games out there. The groups of enemies don't progress through a path; instead, they can pretty much go from left to right, or from top to bottom, directly. There is nothing to stop them when you begin playing. Then, what can stop them? The towers themselves. Yes, the towers serve as walls to prevent the monsters from going too quickly. Again, that's a good idea that adds a challenge as well as a strategic aspect. But again, it's on the Nintendo DS: On larger fields, the towers become smaller, as the space to show the whole field is the same as it is for a small field. Luckily, you can play this game entirely with the stylus or entirely with the buttons, which is a nice thought.

Most Tower Defense games don't have a story, but is that really important in such a game? Even if this blog is called Planned All Along, that doesn't mean a story-less game can't be reviewed here. Last week, I did review Big Brain Academy, after all, which technically had no story.

So, once the game starts, we are greeted by a file selection screen with ONLY TWO FILES. Most games have usually three save files, just to be sure that more than two people can have a save file. Anyway, once the save file is selected, we are brought to a menu composed of nine rectangles. “Play”, “Challenge”, “Fun”, “Customize”, “High Scores”, “Strategies”, “Trophies”, “Options” and “Share”. Let's look at each of them.

First of all, the real game itself. By tapping “Play”, we are brought to another menu with only three rectangles: “Easy”, “Medium”, “Hard”. Easy has 30 waves and the monsters go only from left to right. In Medium, 50 waves of creeps that can come out from the left or from up. Last but not least, Hard mode has sixty waves and the monsters also come from two different locations. Also, in Hard, all the monsters have 50% more health. As soon as the difficulty level is selected, you are brought to yet another menu in which you decide whether or not you want a small or a large grid. A small grid works better for the Easy mode, while a large grid works much better for the Hard mode. You also get the option to load your last game, which is kind of useless as you can usually go through sixty waves in a single playthrough. There are tower defense games out there with hundreds of waves, and a dedicated player will try to beat all the waves in a single playthrough.

This game has all the regular creatures we meet in a number of tower defense games:
The regular creeps with low HP and can be taken down easily;
Creeps that come out close together and follow the same path, so there can be one or two of them that make their way through the maze;
Creeps that go through the maze a little faster, but have less HP;
Creeps that split into smaller creeps after enough damage has been dealt to them;
Flying creeps that can pass through most ground-based attacks;
Small creeps with lots of HP but walking very slowly;
Creeps that morph between those many forms;
And last but not least, creeps that are bigger versions of all those on this list.

What are your weapons in this terrible war? Here's the list of towers:
Pellet towers that shoot slowly and do very average damage but can attack ground and air creeps;
Squirt towers that can attack all creeps and shoots quickly, but do big damage only at their final upgrade;
Dart towers that can hit multiple targets close to each other, but can hit only ground creeps;
Swarm towers that hit only air creeps;
Frost towers that will slow down creeps for a moment;
Bash towers that can stun creeps for a few seconds;
Ink towers that will spread ink that can damage ground creeps;
Snap tower that can be destroyed and will do huge damage to all creeps in range;
And finally, an amplifier tower that will increase the attack and range of nearby towers.

Many of those are a staple of tower defense games.

The three regular games are just fine, they put you through all the types of enemies. Now, let's see the Challenges.
-Speed: Creeps keep coming from the sides, so you need to be quick in upgrading your towers and building a strong defense.
-Survivor: Splitting creatures on every single wave.
-Squirts: The only towers that can be used are the Squirt and Frost towers.
-The 100: 100 waves, each harder than the last.
-3K Fixed: You have only 3,000 gold and you must still beat as many waves as possible.
-5 Min: Beat the most waves possible in five minutes.
-15 towers: You are limited to 15 towers in your maze. Very difficult.
-No Splash: Exactly what it says on the tin; you can't use splash towers.
-No Sell: Don't make mistakes in placing your towers, because you can't sell a single tower.
-Splash: Only Splash towers can be used in this mode.

If you thought this is all the game offers you, think again. The “fun” section has more challenges.
-Trickle: Like the Speed challenge, but this time a creep comes out every second from either entrance.
-Random: The waves of creeps are randomly selected. Impossible to predict what you'll meet next.
-10K Gold: You start with a pretty nice nest egg, and you still gain gold from beating creeps, but the creeps that come out are very strong.
-Spawns!: Like the Survivor challenge, only splitting creeps.
-Boxes: Many boxes scattered around the field; this limits the amount of towers you can place.
-Cross: A large cross covers the field, and as a result each wave of creeps has to pass on either side of it. Get ready to place a lot of towers on the four corners of the screen.

Those 15 special levels are a lot of fun, if you accept the fact that most of them will end only when you'll lose.
However, for the artist in all of us, here is a great little thing they added to the game: You can customize all the creeps and the towers! You are given a 14X14 grid and you can edit the appearance of the creeps. You can make them look like soldiers. You can turn them into smilies. Same for the towers; if you want your tower to be shaped like a kind of spider, it's possible. In a way, this makes this game a lot of fun, as you can customize everything in the main two elements of the game.

You can also keep track of all your high scores. This could be fun, but seeing as you will be the only one playing this game, it becomes a tad pointless to know your highest score – unless you're crazy about high scores and always want to top yourself.

Another section of the main menu leads to nine helpful sections that detail strategies to adopt against the enemies. They give an excellent strategy known as juggling. You see, in a large field, you can build lots of towers that will become a maze for the critters to go through. The juggling technique is to build a maze that leads to both exits, but is comprised of two paths; the juggling technique consists in blocking one of the paths as another remains open, and that open path is the one the creatures will go to. However, you can also sell the tower blocking the other path and place another tower at the end of the path that was previously opened. The creatures will be forced to go and follow the other path. Doing this back and forth results in the creatures being pretty much trapped in your maze. The Strategy section offers other pieces of advice, such as how to get rid of the flying creeps.

The other sections of the menu are the Trophies section (where you can gain achievements based on what you succeed to do in the game's challenges and difficulty settings), options that will let you tweak around with the sound volume, toggle on or off the hints, or change the game's background. Last but not least, a Share option that lets you send a demo of Desktop Tower Defense to other nearby Nintendo DS.

Is this game as bad as I'm making it out to be? Technically, it has major flaws. The A.I. Is not always working so well when you play the game. Case in point, sometimes the towers won't attack the enemy closest to the exit. Some trophies are really, really difficult to get. In comparison to other TDs on the Internet, this one is not innovative nor creative, and uses only the basic stuff you get in most Tower Defense games. Buy this game only if you absolutely love this type of game. Or if you're really a beginner and need to start off with a simpler game. The fifteen challenges and the customization are this game's best features.
However, I need to tell you: There are much better TDs out there, on the Internet. Just think of the Bloons Tower Defense series, the GemCraft series, and even some games that are not part of a series per se, but still offer a decent challenge, such as Ghost Hacker, Cursed Treasure or Villainous. Those are innovative and try to reinvent this kind of game, which is why they're much better. So, actually, I don't think it's worth spending your money on Desktop Tower Defense DS. In fact, it has its own Flash version! Why pay for it? Go play the Flash version instead, you'll be less angry if you end up disappointed.

On this, read you soon!