Where the Wild Things Are

Wildlings (Out Now, $0.99 Sale) is what would happen if the Castle Defense genre ran smack dab into one of those Discovery Channel documentaries that show predators trying to snatch helpless little’uns from their nests. The eponymous heroes of Metamoki’s iOS debut have more than snakes and rats to worry about as they defend their broods, however; giant, demon-eyed hamsters and even the undead are responsible for nest predation in these habitats. The Wildlings have decided it’s high time to move their nests far away from such threats, but it seems they’re doing a lot more fighting than running!

Presented with a nest and a varying number of adult guards in each level, the player uses touchscreen taps to guide the Wildlings toward enemies, intercepting predators before they can run off with the helpless chicks or cubs. Tapping repeatedly makes the Wildlings pick up the pace and attack more rapidly. The game’s tendency to introduce features gradually had me worried at first, but after a few introductory levels Wildlings does get deeper — both in enemy design and virtual button-invoked special attacks fueled by glowing orbs the player gathers throughout. The game is separated into three campaigns, each with its own set of Wildlings, assortment of special attacks and differently behaved enemy hordes. If the player’s collected enough orbs over the long haul, he or she can unlock a fourth set of bonus levels that wraps up the Wildlings’ journey.

While I was happy to see Wildlings blossom into a relatively feature-rich Castle Defense-style game, I never did shake off the feeling that there’s something really wonky about its interface. Managing one defender works well enough, but strange things happen when two or three are assigned to a level. The player might prefer to keep one defender on each side of the screen, but the moment a big enemy waltzes in and the mad touchscreen pecking needed to bring it down commences, the defender on the other side of the screen will be peeled away to assist its cohort. Meanwhile, enemies begin to creep in from the newly unguarded direction. The culprit seems to be a support system that kicks in automatically whenever the player wants to destroy a particular enemy; the attacking Wildling literally calls the others over for extra stopping power. This aspect of the game’s design is no doubt meant to assist the player, but it falls flat in denying him or her full control over the defense strategy.

Not that this matters a whole lot in the end, because genre fans will find Wildlings decidedly easier than average. The player really has to try hard to end up with less than perfect level completion, and the interface design quirk mentioned above is usually to blame for the rare two-star finish. I would love to see updates give the player some difficulty options and a way to micromanage Wildlings on an individual basis. My hunch is that swiping from the Wildling toward its intended target or destination would work well.

I certainly have to give Wildlings credit for its beautiful hand-drawn presentation, smooth animation work, and delightfully epic soundtrack. Weighing in at 45 levels (not counting what lies at the end once unlocked), Wildlings makes for a three to four hour Castle Defense romp.

iFanzine Verdict: A cute and family-friendly Castle Defense-style game that has all the basics down pat, Wildlings falls victim to an interface that tries to make things easier on the player and backfires. Genre fans will find plenty of content here, but they’ll probably hope for updates that give them more direct control over their defense strategy.

[xrr rating=3.5/5]