Speak Softly and Carry a Boomstick

When Sam Raimi signed on for a third Evil Dead film, he probably had no idea just how perfectly it could be adapted to a sidescrolling Castle Defense title on iOS. Backflip Studios takes a page out of Raimi’s book and begins Army of Darkness: Defense (Out now on sale for $.99) with a quick recap of Ash Williams’ transformation from mild mannered S-Mart employee to boomstick-wielding Deadite slayer stuck in the Middle Ages after an unlucky encounter with the Book of the Dead. It’s too bad there’s not much meat on the bones in terms of plot here beyond that. Then again, the Evil Dead series was never about strong storytelling as much as it was about leveling undead hordes with a double-barreled Remington, and Army of Darkness: Defense has plenty o’ that.

Ash may have had a chance to do a little medieval sightseeing in the movie, but in this game he’s eternally commanding the defense of the castle rampart that leads to a cage-encased Necronomicon. If the Deadite swarm reaches the book and claims it for themselves, it’s game over. Army of Darkness: Defense conforms to genre expectations in its resource management-centric gameplay — an overworked smith is busy hammering out iron ingots at all times, and somehow Ash can trade these in for human Deadite fodder so he doesn’t have to risk his own neck in close-quarters combat. While making unit purchasing decisions on-the-fly the player also guides Ash along the battlefield, triggering his special moves and letting him auto-attack in support of the castle defense brigade.

As wave after wave of undead siege minions fall before Ash’s trademark shotgun and his brothers in arms, new troop categories, mob-clearing specials, and castle upgrades become available. On these the player expends coins collected from felled enemies. While there’s an In-App Purchase hook here inasmuch as real-world cash can be traded for oodles of in-game currency, I would argue that Army of Darkness: Defense is far more fun for the challenge of figuring out how to distribute naturally available resources. Provided the player uses Ash effectively, battles tend to be very manageable and failed attempts still yield coins that can be built up in a pinch.

It’s impossible to avoid drawing comparisons between Army of Darkness: Defense and its main competitor, Legendary Wars, given their uncannily similar approach. Discerning genre veterans will immediately sense that Army of Darkness: Defense loses out in terms of gameplay depth. Ash and his cohorts are corralled into a single lane with situational exceptions automatically dictated by the game; the player exercises no control over Ash’s fellow soldiers once they’re summoned; and deciding which units to call up often boils down to a cost-versus-stats consideration rather than operational specialties.

Army of Darkness: Defense does capitalize on its simplicity by offering a flawless interface, and its streamlined nature makes for great accessibility to casual genre fans who’d rather focus on the big picture than real-time micromanagement. With a healthy assortment of troop types and special attacks derived from The Evil Dead series’ numerous tongue-in-cheek trademarks, the game still packs more content than you can shake a boomstick at given its price range.

Army of Darkness: Defense should clock in at five to seven hours at the release version’s fifty waves, and it’s a shame the game’s aesthetic presentation will wear thin on the player long before then. Watching skeletal enemies fall apart one limb at a time and listening to Bruce Campbell’s hilarious voice samples is fun, but not fun enough to make up for the fact that the player spends the entire game cooped up in a single arena.

iFanzine Verdict: A solidly executed Castle Defense game that falls behind the competition in terms of depth and especially aesthetic variation, but recovers with sheer accessibility and the natural strength of its core resource management mechanics. Castle Defense fans who don’t need to micromanage to have fun should take this one for a whirl.

[xrr rating=4/5]