Inside Pulse 12

Review: Desktop Tower Defense (Nintendo DS)

dtdcover
Desktop Tower Defense
Developer: THQ
Publisher: THQ
Genre: Casual/Strategy
Release Date: 05/11/2009

Chances are you’ve played some sort of Tower Defense game whilst browsing on the Internet. Apart from all of the gem dropping casual games, TD games seem to be the most popular among people I know at least.

So it was no surprise to see that a publisher would attempt to take advantage of this trend by publishing a port on the DS. We’ve seen this countless times before already with mixed results. Peggle translated well, whereas Cradle of Rome suffered heavily.

How will Desktop Tower Defense fare?

Modes

Being a casual game, there really isn’t a story to DTD. Rather, you’ll have several ways of completing the main objective of destroying your enemies before they reach the other side of the level.

The main mode is Play. Here you’re simply given the option to play the game either on easy, medium or hard difficulty with a small or large sized map. You’ll be given a trophy for completing each of these regardless of the size of the map. Playing these is generally the best way to get a feel for the game.

After that you’ve got Challenge Mode and Fun Mode to play through. Challenge gives you about ten different challenges that gives you a handicap of some sort and either tasks you with surviving or trying to make it as long as possible against impossible odds. These range from you only being able to use a certain number of towers to having to survive an incredible one hundred waves of enemies. Fun Mode has about six challenges of its own, but these are more about adding some crazy stipulation, such as giving you a ton of money to start off with or an endless wave of enemies. These levels is where you’ll spend a bulk of your time as the challenges can be quite tough.

Apart from these three primary modes of play, you’ll also the ability to look at any trophies you’ve collected as well as look up various strategies the game suggests. The rest of the game is focused on customizing your enemies and towers.

dtd1In the customize mode, you’ll be able to edit any of the towers and/or enemies in the game. You’ll be given a grid to work with that is quite similar to the one found in Drawn to Life, although the color options aren’t as vast as in that game. What’s nifty here is that this isn’t merely a section for you to color the items, but rather to completely create something of your own choice. Would you prefer to make all of the enemies into different colored smiley faces? You can do that! How about changing all of your towers into expletives? You can do that too! No matter what you create, it won’t affect the functionality of either the enemy or the tower. Apart from some control issues which I’ll get to later, this mode is pretty nifty.

Finally, if you’ve got a friend with a copy of the game, you can either send or receive customized enemies or towers back and forth. While there is no multiplayer, this gives you at least something to do with another player. Whether or not you find use for this feature depends on you.

One thing I must mention that hurts the game is that it is lacking one of the most important options that the PC flash game has. That would be the Sandbox mode. On the PC, you can set whatever parameters you want before you play a level. You can chose the starting gold, the types of enemies that appear, what towers you can use, the difficulty, etc. While the DS game has several of its own challenges, it truly is disappointing that the Sandbox mode didn’t make it through, as it is the best thing about DTD.

Graphics

Graphically speaking, this game isn’t running on all cylinders.

For one, the menus are nothing more than a few dark colored tabs with light lettering on a dark colored background. There is no flash to this game from the outset, and it certainly doesn’t get any better as you go along.

Why would I bother mentioning the graphical prowess (or lack thereof) of the menu system? The reason is that menus are all you’ll see outside of the basic game. There aren’t any different colored or themed areas. You get the menu, and then the levels themselves.

Speaking of the levels, the backgrounds for these are nothing like the PC version, which features at least some detail. Here, you have a flat colorless background and colorless towers to defend against simple shaped enemies that generally are single colored and have eyes. That’s it. Unless you spend a lot of time customizing the towers and enemies, you’re going to grow incredibly bored with the look of this game.

Worse off, the game will occasionally feature some slowdown when a ton of enemies are on screen and being fired at by several towers. Given how little was put into the graphics themselves, its odd that the game can still draw that much power with sheer numbers.

Even if you create your own images to use in play, everything will still be a bit blocky and uninteresting to look at. That kind of thing happens in games where can create things to the extent you can in DTD, but it never fails in making the game look worse for it.

While the PC game never turned any heads with its simple visual, this DS version is certainly going to turn heads, but not in a good way.

Audio

I’m afraid things don’t get much better on the audible side of the presentation either.

First off, there is only one song that will play in the entire game. The song is decent enough to listen to, but repeated listenings in a short amount of time will no doubt have you turning off the sound before long.

dtd2Any time a wave of enemies comes out, you’ll hear, “Let’s go!” from the speakers. The tone is always the same no matter what kind of enemy is coming, so there isn’t any tactical advantage to this. Also, since you’ll hear this dozens of times each time you play a single session, you’ll probably start to hate it before you’ve played the game an hour.

Lastly, each tower has its own sound when it fires. Some make cheap popping sounds while others make muffled explosions. When you have a field of nearly a hundred towers going off at once, it can get really chaotic. Still, none of these sounds are that impressive and are far below what the DS is capable of.

All in all, the audio of this game is pretty poor thanks to a lack of content and an insane amount of repetitiveness. You’re better off turning the sound off to listen to something else when you play.

Gameplay

In case you haven’t ever played Desktop Tower Defense, I’ll give a quick rundown of how it goes.

Enemies known as creeps will come from the left and top of the battlefield. (The aforementioned desktop.) The creeps that come from the left side will try to make it all the way to the right side and the creeps from the top will try to make it to the bottom. It’s your job to build various towers to kill the creeps before they can reach their goal, as for every creep that makes it through you lose a life. Once all of your life is gone, the game is over. You can build a maze to slow them down or just place a mass amount of towers and hope for the best.

There are several creep types that vary both in how dangerous they are and how easy they are to kill. Basic creeps are easy to kill and slow. There are creeps with more armor and creeps with more speed. There are creeps that stick together in large groups that make it hard to target any particular one of them. There are also flying creeps that can fly right over towers and creeps that morph into different types to keep you off balance. The most evil of all creeps is the spawn creep, who when defeated breaks down into two smaller creeps that have their own life bars. Just a few of these are more dangerous than most other enemies because they take so much longer to kill. There are also boss creeps which are giant versions of the various kinds of creeps. These take a lot to bring down and they can often make it through your maze do the sheer amount of life they have.

These creeps come in waves that hit you at timed intervals. However, you can tap the L button to force the next wave to come immediately. Most waves will feature a single enemy type although later on you will come across waves that feature a mix of some of the weaker types. Most modes contains fifty waves of creeps, although easy mode has thirty and a challenge mode contains one hundred. As the waves continue, the creeps get stronger. Just because you could one shot a particular creep during the first wave does not mean you’ll be able to do so when that same creep type shows up three waves later. This means you’ll need to keep building your maze and upgrade your towers.

dtd3Speaking of towers, you have several types at your disposal. There are the pellet towers, which fire single rounds, squirt towers that fire off weaker rounds but at a much faster pace, towers that cause splash damage, slow down the creeps, and towers that are dedicated to either land or air forces. There are about then different towers that you can build. Each costs more as you go up and each can be upgraded several times. You buy towers by killing creeps to get gold. Upgrading towers greatly increases their power, but costs more and more for each upgrade. Usually speaking, upgrading doubles the destructive power of a tower. The final upgrade usually does even more than that. For instance, the final upgrade for the pellet tower more that doubles its power and increases its range to encompass more than half of the field. You can also sell towers that you’ve built in order to get some of the gold back. This is an important tactic not only in tweaking your maze, but can also be used for some strategies that I’ll get to later.

As far as controls go, you can use either the d-pad and buttons, or go full out with the stylus. Using the buttons is d-pad is slower, but using the face buttons as hot keys for buy, sell, and upgrade can save a lot of time. If you use the stylus, then placing towers is a breeze, but you’ll have to tap another part of the screen in order to do anything. I prefer a mixture of both, as the face buttons are really necessary when you need to upgrade a lot. The controls don’t come close to matching those found in the PC version, but they work well enough to allow you to play the game at the frantic pace necessary to succeed.

Since enemies will move through your maze and not attack towers, you are required to always leave an opening for the creeps to be able to make it to the other side. You can not block either exit completely. The creeps will always take the shortest route possible. This opens up a great strategy called juggling. By constructing a maze with two possible exits, you can block off one to funnel all of the creeps towards one end. When the creeps get too close to the exit, you can sell the tower you use to block off one end and build a new tower blocking off the exit that the creeps were heading to. This will cause them to turn around and head for this new exit and walk by all of the towers they just passed again! This might sound really easy to pull off, but when there are a lot of creeps moving fast, you can lose track of a couple pretty easy. It also requires a pretty large maze that is well constructed.

All in all, this game is a ton of fun to play. From frantically placing towers to keep creeps from getting free to upgrading that wimpy pellet tower into the awesome sniper tower, there is a lot of intensity and strategy going on. The game throws a lot at you and forces you to react quickly or suffer the consequences. There’s a reason why the flash version of this game has become one of the most popular on the web. The DS version doesn’t control quite as well, but it plays exceptionally.

Replayability

Since there isn’t any sort of career or campaign mode here, its kind of hard to gauge replayability. If you want to master all of the modes, get ready to spend some time trying to figure out a way to overcome whatever stipulation heads your way. Thanks to the frantic nature of gameplay, no two games ever feel quite the same, and since the game will save the most recent starting lineup of towers you used, you can work from the same position and completely change your strategy to get better results.

If you get into the game, the replay value is great. While it doesn’t have the Sandbox mode that the PC version has, the modes on the DS cart will definitely give you something to do for a while. Also, if you’re the kind of person who loves hunting down every last achievement, you’re going to get some serious amount of hours on this thing.

Considering this is a budget title at twenty dollars, the replay value is pretty good.

Balance

If you don’t use your brain, this game is very unforgiving. Creeps will come at you with full speed and if they get past your defenses, there’s usually nothing you can do but watch in horror as your life is depleted rapidly.

dtd4Fortunately, the game also gives your more than once chance to get it right. Unless you’ve got a really long maze or a whole bunch of freeze towers, chances are you’re going to get a few seconds between waves to gather your wits. Thanks to the selling mechanic, bad decisions can be patched up and you can try again before your imminent death.

The biggest problem will come if you accidentally call more than one wave at once when you’re not ready. Once a wave is called, there’s no way to send those creeps back. If you do this at the wrong time, your best bet is probably to reset the game.

Apart from that, the game is pretty good about occasionally giving you a rest by sending a weak wave your way every once in a while. Stronger creeps don’t tend to come at you all at once until much later in the game so you’re given a chance to build your best maze. Once there, it all depends on your skill level.

Originality

Seeing as this is a port of a PC flash game and those certainly aren’t in short supply on the DS these days, the game already faces an uphill battle when it comes to getting high marks for originality.

THQ has been loving the “create your own” thing on the DS ever since it published Drawn to Life, but the idea is taken to the next level here. This isn’t just some coloring book posing as true creativity like Drawn to Life was. Here, you can actually design every tower and creep to your heart’s content. Plus, you can share it with your friends. I have to give the game props for that.

While it is missing parts of the game its based on, DTD manages to add enough to stand out a bit from its PC father.

Addictiveness

Like any good casual game, there is an intangible addictive quality to DTD. While here on the DS it doesn’t fare quite as well, it still managed to suck me in time and time again long after I thought I was done with it.

Each level can last about ten to fifteen minutes or longer depending on how far you make it. If you fail, the urge to keep going is quite surprising. You’ll start to understand where you went wrong and want to try again with a new strategy in mind. It can especially get addicting when you play the Fun Mode level where you start off with an insane amount of money. This basically allows you free reign to build an evil map right from the get go.

If you get into the customization aspect of the game, the addictiveness can become even greater. You’ll want to see your new toys in action and make any tweaks if the design isn’t quite where you want it.

This is one of those games where its possible to sink several hours in without even realizing it.

Appeal Factor

The fact that there is a better version of this game for free play on the Internet really hurts this game’s chances for becoming a bit hit. How can you expect someone to pay twenty dollars for the same game they’ve already played to death whenever there was a lull at work?

dtd5Still, the game should appeal to about anyone who’s willing to pay twenty dollars for the new features. Its solid gameplay and addictive nature make it a fun game to take on the go. The portability factor of this game is its best bet.

If you need to play DTD on the go and don’t have a laptop, this is something you should definitely look up.

Miscellaneous

I can’t forgive this game for not including the Sandbox Mode that you can play for free simply by googling the game’s name. That mode was one of the best things about the game and it should have been included.

The game can occasionally feel a bit like shovel ware. If it wasn’t for the fact that the gameplay was already high quality before the port, this game would probably be bargain bin at best.

If you only have a casual interest in DTD, then save your money and play the PC version for free on the Internet.

The Scores
Modes: Above Average
Graphics: Poor
Audio: Very Poor
Gameplay: Great
Replayability: Good
Balance: Very Good
Originality: Mediocre
Addictiveness: Very Good
Appeal Factor: Below Average
Miscellaneous: Below Average
Final Score: Above Average Game!

Short Attention Span Summary
diehardjackDespite its extremely lacking presentation and hard sell thanks to its free PC father, Desktop Tower Defense for the DS manages to be a good title based solely on the strength of its great gameplay and strong addictive quality. If you’re willing to pay twenty dollars to play some DTD on the go, then you should definitely grab this game. If nothing else, you’ll have some fun with creating your own creeps and towers.

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