I want to start off by saying that I really like the name of Ember Entertainment’s Towers N’ Trolls (out now, $0.99). It not only manages to invoke the feel of classic alliterative fantasy game titles from the past (such as Wizards and Warriors, Ghosts and Goblins, or Dungeons and Dragons), it also simultaneously manages to abbreviate to TNT without the full title sounding stupid in the process. Now, in the name of absolute fairness, I should probably warn everyone at home – before I begin the review proper – that the Tower Defense genre has never exactly been my preferred cup of tea.
With that out of the way, let me get to what I was most impressed with: the visual presentation of Towers N’ Trolls. The pre-rendered sprites used in the game manage to conjure up memories of things like Warcraft 2 and Starcraft, while simultaneously managing to not feel horribly derivative in the process. The graphics are especially pretty to look at when ever you zoom into the battlefield using the pinch command, and you probably will spend most of your time zoomed in as the graphics are way too tiny to comfortably look at otherwise. Thankfully staying exclusively zoomed in will not be a problem most of the time, and the screen can easily be moved quickly around using the standard drag command.
I also really appreciate that the mixer settings of music and sound effects in the settings menu pre-begins with the game sound effects turned up higher than the background music. I have never understood why they give the player control over this at all in most games, other than to force the player to take one extra step before the game begins if they ever want to hear the sound effects at all as they usually start every single slider at 100%. So while I don’t see the value of the inclusion of such a feature, I do appreciate that the default values are such that they don’t need to immediately be changed just in order to hear the sound effects in the game over the music.
Your mission will be to protect a castle – or multiple castles in later stages – from a never-ending onslaught of trolls, as well as some other buddies they decided to drag along to the battle fray. To this end there will be an array of various types of structures you can build and upgrade, with more structures being added to your repertoire – and sometimes removed – over time. As is typical to the genre, every downed enemy will relinquish up a predetermined amount of coins with which to accomplish the aforementioned building and upgrading.
The structures you can build in defense of the kingdom include the basic short range ballista, the ice tower that slows enemies down but otherwise does little damage, the scout tower that has high range and does more damage on each successive shot to the same target, the catapult that hits large groups of enemies at once, the lightning tower that hits a long chain of enemies in a straight line far further than it can target them, and a cannon that shoots powerful exploding shells. Upgrading any of the structures will slightly improve its range, attack rate, health and damage power. Money can also be spent performing maintenance on the structures you have already erected to keep them from being destroyed, or gotten back by tearing them down.
In order to mix things up some the game also give the player access to certain pre-determined special weapons for each stage. These include a gas cloud that slows enemies down and drains their health while they stand inside it, land mines that explode when walked over but are worthless if not carefully placed on top of a road segment, and the high-powered exploding barrel that explodes a second or so after you place it down. A pre-determined amount of these will automatically be given to the player at the start of each level, and more can be gotten by quickly tapping a lot of the jewels that enemies sometimes drop (but only from the special weapons already available in that stage).
Unfortunately the special weapons will assume you don’t want to use them if you try to drop them too close to where you grab them from on the lower right hand corner of the screen, and – since you will often be playing zoomed in almost all the time – this will tend to cause many cases where you will try to move a special weapon in for a last second save only to have it not drop at all when you let go. This will often lead to an instant defeat because – while the game gives you 8 life points per level, with the occasional rare chance to have an enemy drop an extra heart every now and then – the enemies traditionally come in such tightly packed groups that generally speaking if a group manages to rush past your towers it will often be very large. Also, especially in the early portions of a stage, you will regularly have large groups of trolls slipping past your defenses – no matter how craftily you place them – with your only reprieve being a well timed precision special weapon strike.
The game also features gold mines that can be mined for more gold on certain levels for a fee, and treasure chests that randomly appear that can be broken if shot enough times with structures. Generally speaking you are going to be ignoring both of these as the timed gold nuggets that will pop out of the mines will disappear before you have a chance to pull your attention away to them, and the treasure chests will require resources being dedicated to them that you simply aren’t ever going to have in the face of the oncoming onslaught. Also, you probably won’t be getting enough gems to ever buy more special weapons most of the time because – thanks to the constant long streams of enemies – you usually won’t be noticing them in time unless they pop up right where you were already looking at.
Another problem the game has is that the difficulty of a level seems less based on a curve rather than what structures they let you build on that particular stage. If they let you build the almighty lightning tower, the entire level is pretty much going to be a cake walk – no matter how far into the later levels you are – as it is the ultimate crowd control tool when placed correctly. Furthermore, because of the hyper dense hordes they tend to throw at you, in most cases the ballista and scout tower – which can only attack a single enemy at a time – will be utterly worthless and generally only exist to trick you into wasting coins that could have been spent on something with better crowd control.
Yet another fault in the game is basically that any money spent on upgrades is usually wasted as the size of the hordes you face almost always dictate that a second source of fire is generally more useful than a slightly more powerful one, and you’re never going to have enough money to effectively do both (even when you do manage to successfully multi-task and get the bonus gold from other sources sometimes available). Basically your one strategy for most of the game is to make long chains of catapults and ice towers all the way up to the castle, especially being sure to make use of the lightning towers if they will let you build them, and even then hordes of enemies will always slip by and you will be forced to constantly resort to the special weapons. This all leads to you experiencing many defeats where you weren’t really sure what you were doing wrong, eventually followed by a success where you weren’t really sure what you were doing different at all with your tower building.
While the game does feature a scoring system at the end of each level, which is a nice touch, the tenants of how it works leaves some things to be desired. It keeps track of how many gems you collect, the number of hearts you have left, your highest special weapon use kill combo, how much money you have left, and whether or not you completed that level’s bonus goal (which I will cover shortly). Much of this only serves to reinforce the idea that the entire game is about last second saves with special weapons rather than the strategic placement of structures, seeing as how money remaining and kill combos are emphasized factors.
The bonus goals themselves are a curious grab bag mixture of the utterly trivial, the just plain bizarre, or the exceptionally unlikely. Most of them will fall into the first category -with objectives such as killing 3 enemies at once with a special weapon – that you would have done whether they asked you to not, ultimately leaving it feeling like nothing special was accomplished when you achieve it. The bizarre ones will ask you to do things such as tearing down at least five towers, which are also easily done but still fail to feel like any sort of accomplishment when you actually do it. The final category will ask you to do something extremely demanding such as gathering up every possible mineable piece of gold on a map, which – as I already mentioned – is highly unlikely.
Finally, the music present in the game doesn’t even loop correctly. On particularly long siege levels you will be treated to the music just cutting out entirely for a few seconds before it suddenly fades back in awkwardly. It is actually unsettling when this happens, and can provide a temporary distraction that is often absolutely lethal in the face of the never ending troll hordes that you will probably need to be getting ready to hit with a precision weapon strike as they have probably once again slipped past all of your structures in large numbers.
Now before I go I do want to be sure to point out that there is a ‘casual’ difficulty level below the normal one (as well as a higher one named Brutal), and it is indeed easier than the standard one. Unfortunately it’s so much easier that you can basically thwart entire levels simply by building as many towers as you can without much thought at all, so long as you remember to focus on quantity of tower rather than upgrade quality. It really would have been nice to have a difficulty in between these two that was less zerg-rush like, without also simplifying things to the point where winning itself becomes trivial.
iFanzine Verdict: Visually speaking, the game is a great technical accomplishment and many other Tower Defense games available out there would do well to take notes on the appearance and presentation of Towers N’ Trolls. Gameplay wise, the many elements don’t really seem to gel together in a way that makes the game feel any more special than the bulk of its otherwise less graphically savvy brethren.