So I was wandering through the App Store a few days ago and I happened upon Mars Defense 3D (Out Now, $0.99 Release Sale). One look at those screenshots and I fell under its Unity-powered spell. I know I’m not alone on this, and that’s why it’s completely worth discussing the game’s flaws. Let’s face it: if you’re the kind of gamer who falls head over heels for a title that’s easy on the eyes, you’re prone to some stormy digital relationships!

Mars ushers the player in with nary a tutorial, so my first concern was that it would fall into the same rut Battle FanG did a few weeks back. Not quite; while I always prefer live tutorials in a genre as complex as Tower Defense, Mars fairly tucks all the important basics into a Help pamphlet accessible in the main menu. The gist is, a ton of aliens line up along a roadway and a pre-determined arrangement of gun emplacements are available along that path. Tap the wrench icon at the bottom-left of the screen and you’ll reveal the possible positions, as well as a menu for deploying one of four gun types: your workhorse machine gun, a missile launcher, a laser, and a big-ass zapper called the “Tesla Gun” for good reason. Per Tower Defense tradition, you can tap on each unit to upgrade or sell it.

Yes, only four units to work with — sadly you’ll find that the game introduces everything you have to look forward to right off the bat. Units can be upgraded seemingly ad infinitum, so the name of the game is upping the ante on your alien opponents as you rake in ever vast sums of in-game currency. Fall behind your positively skyrocketing budget and you can expect defeat in short order! Levels tend to drag on quite a while and there’s no mid-level auto-save by the way.

That, in and of itself, would result in a thoroughly average Tower Defense title. Mars’ imperfections beyond that start with battlefield management. The playing field is pretty expansive and yet there’s no zoom function, so you’re left frantically dragging around the touchscreen to place more guns when enemies suddenly begin repelling your initial barrage. Now, here’s the kicker when you’re playing on an iPod Touch 4: that 256MB of RAM positively chokes on the number of objects flowing through your defenses when enemies reach a certain strength, so the gun emplacement interface is least responsive when you need it most. Instability can result in outright crashes on the iPod Touch 4, so fair warning on that end. Mars undoubtedly fares a little better on the iPhone 4S and the New iPad with their high-end processing power.

Whatever device you happen to be playing on, the irony of ironies is that Mars’ aesthetics are its weakest aspect once you really get into it. On the visual side it does something right besides just looking pretty: your gun emplacements noticeably evolve as you lather more and more upgrade cash on them. However, Mars severely drops the ball when it comes to the intersection between visuals and gameplay. Are your machine guns more effective against Enemy X than the rocket launcher or the laser gun? Hell if I know — enemies just plod on the same way regardless of what’s pelting them, and the lack of health bars or some dossier make unit matchups a complete mystery. The Tower Defense veteran will always perform well at the outset of a level, but enemies begin marching right through your defenses toward the end and there’s too little feedback to determine where your successes and mistakes really lie. Quality time with the game still hasn’t gotten me past the first level, and this is the major reason why.

So far I’ve given a 2.5 review. Adding insult to average are the game’s sound effects, which are downright dangerous to your ear drums! You’ll find sooner or later that highly upgraded machine guns are extremely valuable to your defenses, and yet these things sound like jackhammers. Honest-to-God-jackhammers, pouring straight through your earbuds. Seriously, take your earbuds out of your ears and listen to the perfectly discernible cacophony from a foot away. You’ll wonder, I was putting that in my freaking ears? And there’s no option for sound effects: the only thing you can turn down is the soundtrack, which is actually pretty nice.

iFanzine Verdict: Mars Defense 3D needs a lot of work before it plays as good as it looks. Let’s hope for a Sound Effects volume option and a pinch-zoom in updates, both of which would help immensely. You’ll have to be a diehard Tower Defense junkie with super-hardened ear drums to tolerate it for now.