Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Game Review: Monsters TD

Monsters TD is a game with a lot of potential that falls short in a number of ways.

It's a rare animal, the side-scrolling tower defense game. It's one of the better such games I can think of, but that's not really high praise, because they usually turn out lousy in one way or another.

The game features a variety of enemies, most of whom have various abilities that set them apart, and three families of towers that each have a basic form and three branches of high-level tower. It also has a selection of "instant" abilities that you can use at various times. Where does it go wrong?

Well, the first place it goes wrong is the limited tower placement. There's only a number of fixed emplacement locations in the game, and thus you may have trouble finding places to concentrate your towers, because there are only so many places to put them and a level may have only one or two places where it's even possible.

And it's important, nay, key to having any kind of success in the game to concentrate your towers correctly. The three basic towers are the Steam Tower, which is kind of lame, though its upgraded forms can be useful, the Tower of Fire, which has what seems to be a much higher damage per second in the form of a continuous beam, and the Eye Tower, which fires slowly but stuns targets. The Steam tower is only useful in specific situations (i.e. once you can upgrade them), while putting Eye Towers and Towers of Fire together handles most enemies in the game rather successfully-several Eye Towers can virtually paralyze an enemy for several minutes, almost always enough to kill most enemies with a Tower of Fire.

The problem is that all these towers cost the same amount. They all upgrade for the same amount. The only incentives for picking different towers come from their abilities, and as I've suggested you want to use the Steam Towers and their upgrades rather sparingly. While a fully upgraded tower from this family can be very powerful, upgrades are incredibly expensive, and will set you back comparably to the cost of a dozen basic towers.

And herein lies another problem: The game's economy is weak. It's particularly so because all enemies except "boss" enemies give you the same amount of money, whether they're the toughest or weakest. And all "boss" enemies also give you the same amount of money whether they're the weak, pathetic basic bosses or the nigh-unstoppable ones.

This weak economy makes using the "instant" features (something that you spend money on that is a temporary effect) almost worse than useless. You'll have a bit of extra money to spend, and so you will... and then you'll discover that you don't have enough money to do anything else, and a wave of tougher monsters will overrun you. And that's often the best-case scenario, when whatever instant you used actually did what you wanted it to-it's possible that the monsters you were after escaped unscathed. The game's instants are only for when you've already got every tower you can, and then they can still be worthless because they just can't contribute enough to stop anything, and they also have painfully long recharge times.

Anyway, what of the monsters themselves?

Well, there's the obvious basic ones. There are fat blue cyclops creatures called Gluttons that heal themselves over time, which is a modest challenge, but usually not very effective against properly placed Eye Towers. There are these hilariously stupid-looking guys who ride on rocks and are essentially heavily armored, reducing the damage they take from every attack, and share the same weakness to Eye Towers. There are purple Slugs that turn invisible for fifteen seconds the first time they get hit, which really just means that you need to get defenses built towards both the beginning and the end of your path. And then there are these guys:

The quirkily named Ricky-Ticky, Juggernaut (the armadillo-thing), and Imp (the winged fuzzball) are all (well, not the Juggernaut, for reasons I'll explain) really darned annoying at best and horribly game-busting at worst, because each of them is highly resistant to particular families of tower, and unlike the other kinds of monsters, their resistance ability can't be taken away by the Tower of Greed (an upgrade of the Tower of Fire).

The Juggernaut actually isn't too terribly bad. Why not? It's resistant to the brown tower family (Steam Tower and upgrades), and since you're not worrying too much about using those, they're just less-tough versions of the armored guys who are a smidgen faster.

The Imp is a huge pain. It's immune to the red tower family (Tower of Fire and upgrades) and is danged fast. Upgraded brown towers can kill them, and Eye Towers can slow them down some.

Then there's the Ricky-Ticky. I hate them so. Immune to Eye Towers, which are the staple of your defense, they just march past while other monsters get paralyzed, and they're also faster than average.

The problem with these monsters beyond what I've mentioned is that for some darned reason, it always seems like the towers that don't work well on them focus on them obsessively, wasting their efforts. It's very frustrating.

It gets better: Each class of enemy (except possibly the Ricky-Ticky, but I'm not sure on that) has a "boss" version, which is bigger and tougher, gives more money, counts as five monsters when it reaches a gate, and has a vastly amplified version of its base form's abilities... and there's no information on them in the guide. I had to have it pointed out to me that the bosses take extra lives, because I was too busy screaming in rage at them.

Just how much are the abilities augmented? A giant Glutton heals so fast that multiple Eye Towers concentrating their fire on it can't even weaken it, much less kill it, and if it gets "trapped" somewhere by the paralysis effect, it will heal up to full health while out of range of other towers. A giant rock guy takes virtually no damage from most weapons. A giant Slug will turn invisible for probably a full minute, slipping past almost all your defenses virtually unharmed (and retains a lot of health). And a giant Imp just has way too much darned health for something that fast.

And as I said, the in-game guide doesn't bother to explain a word of this.

Topping it all off is the sometimes atrociously frustrating level design.

In this particular level, enemies come from four different entrances and move to one of four different gates. Their paths are fixed-enemies from one gate always go to one gate-but it's a chore at best to figure out which is which, and only a few tower spots can be close enough to hit the monsters along any given path.

So why am I talking about this game?

Well, it does have a few redeeming features. It's got amusing cartoony graphics, and the music is pretty entertaining.

More significantly, this is the game designer's rather obvious first game, and there are two other tower defense games which are clearly descended from this one. So this is essentially a series review, except the games aren't truly a series.

I'm pretty sure I'll do the next one next week.

If you don't mind a tower defense game practicing cheap shots on you, I suppose I can recommend this game to you. If you do mind, I'm afraid I can't.

-Signing off.

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