Keeper of the Grove is a direct descendant of Monsters TD.
It goes in a very... different direction in terms of its graphics, but numerous aspects of gameplay are similar, albeit greatly improved. (It also discards the side-scrolling aspect, which is just as well.)
In case you're wondering, why yes, those enemies do have a striking resemblance to a purple Calvin from Calvin & Hobbes. And yes, those are disturbing "cute" towers.
In this game, you're trying to keep enemies from stealing your gems. There's no real plot or indicator thereof; you're just building your creepy little defender things to fight off various weird little guys.
Balance has been much improved-the little plant towers are the least powerful and cost the least, while the stone towers are the most powerful and cost the most. Each tower has clear strengths and weaknesses (many enemies are normally too fast to be hit by the stone towers, while the water towers can slow those enemies down for the powerful stone towers to destroy them-this conveniently also makes enemies bunch up for the stone towers' splash damage to have maximum effect).
Spells are the most notable improvement over the previous game's instant option-instead of paying money for a rechargeable spell, you get spells occasionally when enemies die as a bonus. While this means you have less control over the spells, it also means they don't wreck your economy.
Also? One of them sets things on fire. The other nice thing is that the majority of the spells work quite well-in fact, several that I'm pretty sure aren't supposed to do damage still seem to. It might be a bug, but don't complain, because you're going to need every bit of that damage.
Gameplay is fairly slow normally, and this is a blessing while you're learning. The economy is also much stronger, though with an annoying twist-bigger enemies drop more coins, but you need to gather your coins (and spells, and retrieve crystals dead enemies drop) manually with the mouse.
There's another annoying twist to the economy: In order to obtain upgraded towers, such as these sprout things, you need to pay an additional fee to that mushroom thing there every level. (Worse, the mushroom is constantly doing its darnedest to distract you from what you're doing.)
If this had been a feature of Monsters TD, with its already shaky economy, it would have made an already problematic game unplayable. As it is, this game's economy can support it, but only just.
Despite its ostensibly cuddly graphics and its relatively slow gameplay, this game is hard. Its towers have range that often falls short in a way that's surprising, and in a game like this, that's a big problem. There are similar enemies to most of the Monsters TD ones-basic, regenerating, turns invisible once, armored, "too much hitpoints," guys who are resistant to towers (the worst ones this time around are probably the insanely fast water-resistant ones, because they can't be hit by stone towers and thus are close to being immune to two families of tower), though thankfully their immunity is less absolute and the "boss versions" are absent-and a few entirely new ones, such as the too-fast guys and this guy.
Whoops, sorry, in my anger I set him on fire.
Here we go, a convenient picture from the guide that even has some words and other pictures.
This is the most powerful enemy I've encountered, a boss of sorts who spews out little dudes, has a ridiculous amount of hitpoints, and makes your towers fall asleep so that you have to click around to wake them up. (If you look at the screenshot where he's on fire, you can see that a bunch of towers-close to half of them-have their eyes closed and are even emitting little "z" effects.)
What makes me twitch is that there are two more boss-type enemies that I haven't encountered, and they're probably somehow worse. (I've poked around to look at the walkthrough for the game, and one appears to be able to carry any number of crystals, while another seems to be able to steal them before it actually reaches them, maybe. But I can't tell for sure.)
This game will eat up a lot of your time until you get good enough to run it at 3X speed, because it's just slow and there are a lot of levels. In order to get to the last stage, you have to get all the game's achievements, and there are quite a few of them. (Fortunately, here they give you extra skill points and make your life easier by making stuff better, so it's not achieving things for the sake of it.)
I might recommend this game with the proviso that it's got rather unsettling graphics and surprising difficulty, but the thing is that this game is significantly similar to the game I intend to review next, and that one is where the game maker hits all the right notes. It also is an interesting evolution in a new direction from this one.
But that's next week.