One of my favourite styles of game is the tower defence. This game crops up all over the place, and in a variety of different forms. The custom maps section of any online Blizzard game, be it Warcraft or Starcraft is full of them in various guises. Scores of them exist on the internet as flash games. Plants vs Zombies, at the end of the day, essentially fits into this category too. It often appears as a mini-game within a larger game – Warcraft III for example and World of Warcraft (yes, Blizzard is clearly also a fan of these games). I think a game style which has provided so much entertainment for me over the years deserves a small celebration and promotion. So here it is.
A tower defence game is one where there is a set path or paths which enemies will move along. The goal is to not let any enemies (or less than a certain amount) reach the end of the path. There is some incentive for this, such as in Plants vs Zombies where if they reach the end of the lawn, they enter the house and eat your brains. That’s motivation enough for me! Anyway, you have some resources, either collected from killing enemies or by farming it, which you use to create defences. Traditionally, these come in the form of towers which you place along the track to fire at the incoming enemies. However, due to the wide variety of TD games, there are an equally wide variety of towers. Everything from missile turrets to elemental spirits to soldiers and tanks to plants with little faces has been used. There are generally multiple types of towers, with different abilities and different costs which give you some variety in your set up.
The key to the game is generally to find the ideal set up of defensive towers – such as placing a pair of towers which slow the enemy down alongside a group of extremely high damage towers on a U-turn in the track, thus maximizing the time enemies will remain within the most dangerous section of the path. There are whole websites dedicated to the debate over the perfect PvZ strategy – is the cob launcher or the gloom shroom strategy more successful? Many games are multiplayer, with each player defending a branch of the path. That can get annoying if one person simply leaves, but entertaining if there is just one weak link which you have to cover for. That’s a good challenge.
I think the appeal of tower defence games comes from its intensity. You are constantly in a battle to protect yourself/the sanctuary/the city, and the enemy doesn’t let up. Usually they don’t shoot back, but they will press on relentlessly, and if there is a single hole in your defence, they will break through it. If it is not strong enough, they will overwhelm it. It is a battle for survival, and it tests both your endurance and your defensive strategic prowess. Most TD games feature levels of increasing amounts of stronger and stronger monsters, so there is little time for relaxing. I’m a defensive player in most games anyway, so my love of purely defensive games is hardly surprising.
My favourite Tower Defence game of all time that I can remember well is probably GemCraft. It’s an online browser game, so it isn’t hard to find. You are a wizard gaining experience in your ability to craft gems which can be used to grant firepower to towers to kill the monsters. There’s even a semblance of a plot on this one, which makes it interesting. A few Warcraft III mod maps come to mind as my favourite, but I don’t remember any with enough clarity to discuss them. GemCraft, however, was quite well made and very long. It took me months to work my way through all the levels and they do get very challenging. The gem system is pretty nifty, as it allows you to create more or less powerful gems of each type, and place them in either towers to attack or traps on the actual path to make the monsters’ life more difficult. You can even turn up the pressure on yourself, calling more monsters up or accelerating their appearance, and the game rewards you for it, which is very fun. I recommend GemCraft to anyone who loves TD games, especially Chapter Zero if you can find it. For some reason it’s far better than Chapter One in my opinion.