Tower Defense games have had a jump in popularity over the last year with the next generation consoles having several versions available via their respective stores. Today we look at one from Square Enix, a developer famous for their fantasy based role playing games.
Crystal Defenders was first made available on the iPhone and iPod and the PS3 version is set to become a big seller particularly as it is much in the same style as one of the stores biggest sellers – PixelJunk Monsters.
There are three ‘versions’ of Crystal Defenders available to the gamer – the W1 version is a straightforward take in which you will learn the majority of the enemies as well as learning the base classes and how to manage your money between rounds. Just like other tower defense games you are given a bonus depending on how many crystals you have left in your base. W2 is a slightly different version as it introduces Power Crystals which can be dropped near your units to give them more speed, attack range and power. W3 is the ultimate test as it combines all the previously learned tactics and throws a ridiculous amount of bad guys onto the screen to obliterate you.
Crystal Defenders is just what you would expect a Square Enix version of a tower defense game to look like. You are presented with an array of fantasy style characters to plonk on the playing fields, ranging from close up warriors to long distance mages and archers. Just to spice things up, you are able to use some of your crystals to magically cast a number of Final Fantasy style creatures to damage everything on screen and to add enhancements to your units. These are a last resort attack however only to use when all else is failing.
The maps are not that varied as you get a standard map system to learn the enemies and to keep the movement path simple, and an advanced path which has more directional forks in the road to make matters more complicated. All in all you get a total of twelve maps which I guess is acceptable… if a little limited.
Crystal Defenders is not the standard style of tower defense game, because the difficulty level is extremely high. I played the game for 2 hours before I experienced any kind of success with the first level and it really is a game of trial and error – tactics are massively important in completing the levels. You earn points on how many crystals you have left as well as your money resources and how many waves you managed to successfully complete (from a total of thirty with a boss level at the end).
So how does it play? It is a fantastic game marred slightly by the developers high demands for tactics. This is not a game you will win by simply placing a few upgraded warriors and archers in key positions. It ends up an in-depth game of various tactics (and failing!) as you try and ascertain the means necessary to defeat the next wave. This is not to say it is not massively addictive, it is – but the demands for learning the tactics are so high that many casual gamers will just lose interest after getting their ass handed to them for the first hour. Once I worked out a few tactics to get past the first few stages I was frustrated by my own inadequacies, but the feeling of victory after beating the boss was so rewarding I almost put my foot through the screen in joy.
Comparing it to Pixeljunk Monsters I can not help but feel that Crystal Defenders might fail commercially because of the insanely difficult challenges placed upon the player from level to level, but I am confident that it will be an acquired taste that a core group of players will adore.
Graphically there is nothing extraordinary about the design, however the character design is solid and the little touches add to the feeling of a fantasy world created by Square Enix. The animation is minimal and fast forwarding the action gives a Benny Hill kind of experience. Even the frame rate seems low which would tie in with the handheld phone market origins.
Crystal Defenders is a massively addictive downloadable game which may prove to be too much of a challenge to the mass market gamer who will surely lose interest long before he gets addicted – hook, line and sinker. For those of you reading this with more patience and the tendency to love a true fantasy environment then this deserves a purchase – you will spend a lot of time cursing the developers, but it will be immensely hard to put down the controller.
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