It’s 2:26 as I start to write this review. In the A.M. I meant to begin a my review several hours ago, but reasoned that I should play a few more minutes of Arcane’s Tower Defense first – you know, to make sure that I’d judged the game fully. Because I’m professional like that. Not just because I wanted to play it some more. No sir.
In case the title proved a little too mysterious and opaque for you, Arcane’s Tower Defense is a – wait for it – tower defence game. Set in a fantasy world that might seem a little familiar to anyone who’s ever played, watched or read anything which involved the word ‘goblins’, it sees you holding back a green tide from the unfortunately-named fantasy land of Fartchis. As that interesting choice of name, and the inventive use of an apostrophe in the title might suggest, this is a game being put out by a development team whose first language isn’t English: in this case, a group of French developers. The spelling errors that dot the game are not a serious issue – they’re actually rather endearing – but there are a couple of occasions in the game where a translator whose first language was English would have been useful in making instructions clearer. Still, this is a small startup company, so I’m hardly going to bash them for localisation errors. It’s even easier to forgive them when they’ve made a game that’s so bloody good. They’ve really done a fantastic job, making sure that it has brilliant- no, wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.
Again, this is a tower defence game. You know the drill: place defences, watch enemies run afoul of said defences, repeat. In this case it’s mostly of the fixed-route variety, but for certain areas of certain levels which allow you to carve up the route with towers. And thanks to the fantasy setting, these are literally all just that: towers, of the old and looming variety.
Less standard is the graphics engine: this is a rare tower defence game rendered entirely in 3D. Now, a lot of sites have reported on this being an ‘incredible’ looking game, equivalent to a full-size console release. I’m not going to be quite so hyperbolic – this is clearly a game for a mobile phone, with its chunky polygonal creatures and simple graphical effects. It is, however, rather pretty, looking an awful lot like Warcraft III. Which is fitting, considering that game’s influence on the popularity of the tower defence genre. The 3D has little effect on gameplay, but the ability to rotate and zoom the screen freely is a welcome one – and a little visual finery never goes amiss.
So: towers, goblins, and a 3D engine. But what’s so special about the gameplay? Well, there are a few departures from convention. For one, upgrades are enacted en masse, and are permanent: each tower type has three upgrade paths (none of which are mutually exclusive), and any upgrade will affect all towers of that type for the entire level. On top of which, there’s an ‘era’ system in place: essentially, at any point you can choose to advance an era, allowing you access to new upgrades and tower types, as well as modernising all your towers to fit the new era, improving their abilities and changing the way they look. Again, this affects all towers for the rest of the level – and also has the knock-on effect of increasing the cost of any new towers, encouraging you to have a large network in place before advancing an era.
Not that the era system only affects your defences. It also increases your store of mana. On top of your gold supplies (accrued through killing enemies), you have a stock of mana which you can use to directly intervene with the battle. You can throw balls of fire or ice at the enemy, zap them with lightning, or even knock them back a few steps. The era you’re in determines how much mana you can have, and the speed at which it regenerates between enemy waves.
The game also rewards you for holding off on spending your gold until absolutely necessary: you get 5% of your gold back as interest between waves, meaning a little delay in spending can mean extra money in future. All of this leads to one hell of a balancing act: do you upgrade now, to crush the next wave of enemies? Or do you expand, so that when you do upgrade you get the most benefit for the least gold? Or do you do neither, so that you can save just a little more gold: surely you can use your spells to deal with the enemy this wave? And these are decisions you have to make quickly: you only ever have a ten second breather between waves, and your mana and gold only increase once the new wave starts. Which might not sound important, but for the fact that building a tower takes a few, crucial seconds: and advancing an era causes all of your towers to be rebuilt, meaning that waiting for your money to increase first can cause disaster as the first goblins rush past your first set of rebuilding defences…
And that’s not all. Aside from the standard tropes of having flying enemies who can only be targeted by certain defences, enemies who cluster and should be dealt with by splash-damage-causing weapons, tough enemies who need high-damage weapons to deal with them and so on, your defences fall into two broad categories: magical, and mundane. Some enemies are weak to magic, others weak to physical attack. Most interesting are the goblin shamans, who are resistant to magic and weak to physical attack – until they die. At which point their spirit leaves their body and rushes along the path, completely impervious to physical attack, but swiftly brought down by magic. You soon learn that you have to plan for every eventuality, which only adds to the pressure on you to really plan out your defences.
All of which would be for naught, if the levels were poorly designed. They aren’t.
Each level has limited places for your towers – a feature which is used to make you really think about placement, and also to plan for the future. The enemy’s path twists and turns, and you have to take full advantage of every u-turn, every difficulty they face: you learn to make use of the few areas where you can bring multiple towers to bear, slowing the enemy down even as you bombard them with shells and poison them. You’ll leave gaps in your defence, ready for later tower types, and place defences in areas that seem unpromising, knowing that after a few upgrades they’ll become incredibly useful. You’ll place your slowest, most powerful towers in places where they will get the opportunity to fire upon the enemy at multiple locations along the route. You’ll work out how to use your opening turrets to stagger the enemy for your later defences to take care of.The levels are complex, challenging, and immensely satisfying to figure out and conquer.
There’s an art to designing tower defence games, and Graphic Stream have absolutely nailed it – at £1.49 this is an absolute steal, and I can only encourage every fan of the genre to go out and buy it. I haven’t even mentioned the fact that alongside the satisfying campaign, the game features a variety of survival levels. Or how clear and precise the interface is. Or that the developers plan to release a level editor for the game, for free.
There are a couple of niggles – the lack of an option to mute the sound is a bit odd, the loading times can be a bit on the long side, and the engine does occasionally stutter when there’s a lot happening on screen. The menu layout is a bit odd, too, with it being a bit too easy to start a survival mode game instead of carrying on with the campaign. Oh, and it’s one of those odd games that requires you have a credit card attached to your Zune profile, rather than allowing to dip into your phone contract to pay for it. But to be quite honest, I just don’t care. The game is just too well designed to let little issues like this mar the experience. Don’t take my word for it: try the game out on the Marketplace: the trial gives you a good chunk of game to try out, and the levels only get better as it goes on. Absolutely essential.
Arcane’s Tower Defense Gameplay Video
Arcane’s Tower Defense Screenshots
Version Under Review : 188.8.131.52
There is a trial version available and the full version is available for $1.99, you get access the tutorial and a couple of levels in the trial
Update : Level Editor is available here
Our Rating for Arcane’s Tower Defense