(Almost) King of the Hill

(Editor’s Note: What follows is the original review written for the first version the author played. Since then, one or more major critiques have been addressed by the developer. For a list of these, see “Addendums” below the original review score at the end of the article.)

As with so many iOS games that try to ride the coattails of the most tumultuous period in human history, historical authenticity in Hills of Glory: WWII (Out Now on Sale, $1.99 later) ends with the game’s title. But you didn’t come to the App Store seeking a history lesson, did you, rookie? You came here looking for blood and guts, and a deep but swipe-friendly Castle Defense game. In that case, you won’t leave this collaboration from Mando Productions and Bulkypix disappointed! …Or will you?

Hills of Glory casts the player as an anonymous squad leader eager to rise through the ranks by overseeing the mass slaughter of vaguely Axis-looking minions. In practice this boils down to a series of Castle Defense-style holdouts, whether the “castle” be an airplane downed behind enemy lines or a recently captured bunker. While Hills of Glory doesn’t have much in the way of a story beyond mission introductions and soldier descriptions, the Exequo translation team did a fantastic job lending the game a campy and irreverent mood with what little they had to work with.

Before starting a level the player forms a slate of three kooky specialists who fall into light Shooter, heavy Gunner, and Support categories. Each specialist determines what happens when the player uses the game’s six available touch and swipe options. Put Father Marc in the Gunner slot and he’ll lob one of his “heavenly grenades” wherever the player holds the screen; the priest will also spray heavy mortar fire with great cheer should the player execute a horizontal swipe. Swap Father Marc out for Lt. Hook and the horizontal swipe will instead lay down mines that make it a bad day for incoming enemies.

Naturally each weapon is tailored for taking out specific enemy formations and has its own reload rate, forcing the player to constantly make nail-biting decisions in realtime. Added to the variety of upgradable team members unlocked as the player’s rank increases, this makes for a deep and addictively fun Castle Defense experience. Lest its complexity overwhelm casual players, Hills of Glory features a very well-fashioned live tutorial that gradually introduces each facet of its gameplay.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Hills of Glory is how it leaves its difficulty level completely in the player’s hands — ironically the only in-battle function tied to a virtual button. If the player’s been making wise upgrade decisions and reaches a point where enemy waves are eliminated with great ease, he or she can use a “taunt” button to bring double or triple the number of enemies out onto the field, a condition that lasts the next few waves. Should the player survive the more intense assault, rewards for finishing the level are naturally raised as well. A percentage indicator lets the player know how many more enemy waves are incoming in the current level, so a quick comparison with the fort’s health bar leaves the player very well informed when deciding to take a chance on this realtime difficulty function.

Hills of Glory proves just as aesthetically beautiful as it is fun thanks to hand-drawn battlefields that disintegrate into true No Man’s Lands under the player’s heavy firepower. The one respect in which the game underwhelms in this area is sheer enemy repetitiveness: the great majority of incoming foes are footsoldiers, and the plethora of formations in which they march doesn’t make their little death squeaks any less grinding to the player’s ears after a few minutes. When a rare enemy tank finally rolls in, its metallic groans are sure to be music to the player’s ears.

Sporting a survival mode in addition to its meaty campaign mode, Hills of Glory contains enough content for three or four hours of gameplay with plenty of replay value to top it off.

After spending a very ecstatic two and a half hours with Hills of Glory, I thought I’d just be niggling over whether to shave off half a star for the enemy repetitiveness. Horror of horrors, when I revisited the game to check a few things in my notes, it shorted out just after the Bulkypix loading screen. And again, and again — and even after going so far as to re-install it on my 4th gen iPod Touch, software version 4.3.3 (and very un-jailbroken I might add). It appears that I had a lucky run when I first fired up Hills of Glory, and my success rate at getting the game to boot up has become quite abysmal since then. This tragically leaves me unable to recommend it in its current state — we’d love to gather feedback from other players and see how common the stability issue is, because Hills of Glory is a real gem otherwise.

iFanzine Verdict: D’oh! One of the most perfectly designed Castle Defense games on iOS is thwarted by severe stability issues, at least on this reviewer’s iDevice. Let’s hope this gets fixed soon, because it’s an absolute must-have for any genre fan who can get it working. If the loading issue is solved in updates, or if my own difficulties with it are extremely rare among its wider user base, consider Hills of Glory worthy of the additional two-and-a-half stars its content so richly deserves.

[xrr rating=2/5]

Addendum: Crash resolved