One of the more recent genres to appear in the indie game market is Tower Defense. In these games a number of "monsters" trundle from an entrance point to an exit point, and you are to stop them by building an array of towers along their path that rain death down upon them. You are restrained by budget and the monsters get tougher and more numerous each wave. Between (and during) waves you can spend money on upgrading your towers, making them faster, more powerful and deadlier.
Wicked Defense doesn't stray too far from the original concept, focusing on delivering a polished effort rather than experimenting with many new themes. You begin by choosing a map, which vary in difficulty and complexity, upon which there are a number of monster paths. There can be multiple entrances and exits, making placement of towers very important. Some squares on the map have special effects on monsters and some prevent you building towers on them. You also cannot build on the monster path itself.
The monsters come in a variety of forms, and can be either "mechanical" or "illusion" (illusory, surely?) as well as possessing a variety of nasty powers. Towers range in abilities too, including towers that provide burning (continual) damage, slow down monsters or blast them with a range of debilitating effects. All can be upgraded with such things as extra weapons, faster firing rate, greater range, greater power and so on, with the exception of my personal favourite, the Obelisk (a custom built and very powerful tower). Note that some towers can only target mechanical monsters, while others can target both kinds.
If the monsters are too much for your towers, you have a range of support spells. Like the towers, some can only affect mechanical monsters. These use mana, which you gain by killing monsters - don't use all your mana up in spellcasting as you also need it (as well as cash) to upgrade your towers. Cash is earned by completing waves and you also earn interest on your cash balance (so don't spend it all at once!).
This is yet another game suggesting I should get a new laptop as my poor wee beastie wouldn't even run Wicked Defense (commenting about shaders v1.1 or something like that). The slightly younger desktop machine managed okay. Certainly you'll need a powerful setup to fully appreciate the 3D map (which can be panned and zoomed, though not rotated) and the wealth of particle effects. The illusory monsters glow. The towers are all different (and look quite weird), pulsing and rotating constantly. The computer started to chug quite alarmingly when I was on the verge of being overrun. Fantastic but intensive graphics.
A range of music tracks accompany Wicked Defense, blending neatly into each other when they change. Different tunes accompany the title screen, instructions and hiscore sections. Mellow and occasionally a little haunting, they all make an excellent background to the strategy of placing towers and the violent blasting of monsters as they swarm past. Towers all make different sounds when they fire, and the sound of all your towers blasting away as a hundred cycloids and ancients tear along the path can be quite overwhelming.
This is a very easy game to play but remarkably open ended. Build towers and cast spells by clicking on the relevant buttons (which grey out when you lack the cash/mana). Right click to cancel and get your cash/mana back or left click on a suitable spot on the map to go ahead. Hover over your towers and you see their effective range. Left click and you open a menu that lists available upgrades, targeting preferences and the option to sell your tower back for a fair proportion of what you invested. Hover over monsters to see their health. Monsters affected by chaos acid or burning effects are graphically represented as such. You can place or upgrade towers and cast spells while paused if the enemy move a little too fast.
Enemy waves are selected randomly, so the game is never the same twice. If the standard range of maps are not enough for you, you can also create your own in the map editor, though (as a fair amount of experimentation showed me) the settings for monster waves are very complex and my "Easy" Bytten map was in fact virtually impossible! A full game can last for some time, and with my schedule I often didn't have time to play them to the very end - there is no capacity to save progress. This is a shame but probably not entirely practical anyway.
Aside from the moderately high system requirements (which newer computers will sneer at in any event) I have trouble thinking of anything to fault Wicked Defense on. The range of towers is quite small, though the number of ways they can be upgraded increases the actual depth quite a bit. Instructions for the main game are detailed, even explaining the different monster types - only the map editor instructions are limited. That said, it isn't clear what "penalty" and "bonus" levels do. A few tutorials on map design could encourage more people to try it, and potentially lead to a range of the best player maps being available for download.
This is a game likely to keep me coming back for more. I could have finished this review a week earlier if I'd not felt its siren song luring me back for another go, "for research purposes". It's a high quality game that makes me fall for that one more than once, and so far Wicked Defense has managed it about eight times. If I didn't share the desktop machine it would probably have been much higher.
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