Zen Wars‘ Multiplayer Mode deserves special praise because the developers have achieved something particularly interesting here: it feels fundamentally different from the single player game, rather than a re-hash of the same material with multiple players involved. The all-important difference lies in the shooting phase. Whereas pummeling expendable computer-controlled foot soldiers can be a lackluster affair in Campaign Mode, taking down forts commanded by one or two human opponents requires strategic finesse. One must decide whether to concentrate fire on the opposition’s durable cannon battery or the walls that fall so much more quickly, and a dominant strategy is far from clear. As in Campaign Mode, the role of debris and enemy sappers roving around on one’s own territory throws a wildcard in to muck up each player’s fort-building ability. Naturally, the player’s observation of his or her own mistakes in Campaign Mode becomes a precious experiential asset here; an exceptionally swift-fingered participant can still back him-or-herself into a corner that’s all too easily lost should the opposition spot fort design flaws.
Zen Wars‘ interface has to differentiate between so many touch commands, it’s pretty mind-boggling. Whether it’s pinch zooming, swipes at the screen to move the player’s field of view, curving arcs drawn over the rotation ring used to turn rebuilding blocks, or the player’s mad tapping during the firing phase, the game engine handles it all expertly. Then again, what else would we expect from a game built in cocos2d by now? Multiplayer Mode employs a user-friendly Game Center-powered interface, and opens with a handy indicator that lets players know how many more are available for a matchup or invite.
Zen Wars‘ battle environments appear on the sparse side until the player gets his or her network of forts up to speed, but the hand-drawn sprites and partially animated comic book panels conjured up by Panzer Flakes lend the experience a visual flair that’s entertainingly zany. Zen Wars has a particularly interesting approach to music: rather than assign one track to each level, it cycles through its entire set of battle tracks, which span a gamut of styles from Spaghetti Western to Classical to driving orchestral. This is an effective decision, perhaps made in deference to what is probably the single most important thing you need to know about Zen Wars. As a game that’s conquered through acts of sustained concentration, Zen Wars is rather difficult to dump out of once you’ve started an engagement; jumping into the middle of a rebuilding phase without being “in the zone” first is kind of like starting a marathon without some warm-ups. One battle could last anywhere from ten to twenty minutes, and it’s best played when you can devote solid blocks of time.
Zen Wars‘ single player Campaign Mode can be counted on for three to four hours’ worth of play; seasoned players can squeeze plenty more out of Survival and Multiplayer. We’re expecting a continuous stream of updates over the long haul, so consider it set to get even better as time marches on!
iFanzine Verdict: Strategy and Castle Defense fans may find that Zen Wars still has some depth to gain in updates, but it earns major points for the general accessibility of its puzzle-heavy formula and a standout Multiplayer Mode. If you could go for a game that will test your noggin and your power of concentration, and can sink fifteen to twenty minutes into an average session, Zen Wars is a rock-solid option.