I love tower defence games but often many of them are very generic cookie-cutter in their style. Few make it over to console and so I wanted to check out a few of the budget ones. I purchased MACE Tower Defense and Swamp Defense 2 around the same time as they were both on sale. What I didn’t realise was that one is essentially a reskin of the other and so this review is almost entirely interchangable.
Viewed from a top down perspective, both games have various enemies walking through a single path to reach a goal and if they do, you lose a health point. To stop them you must place various towers down that will shoot at the enemies and kill them. All the basic towers are here – gun, missile, fire, electric, long range and so on and they are all upgradeable with three distinct levels inside the game. Cash is generated through killing enemies as well as a wave completion bonus so you’ll usually either sink or swim with your tower placement and your tower stats. By stats I don’t mean levelling up from 1 to 2 to 3 – I mean some seriously grindy tower stats roguelike level up mechanics.
For the main menu of each, as you clear levels you’ll get overarching cash to spend on unlocking new towers (you only start with a couple of them), new path slow downs such as barriers and mines or levelling up the base stats of each tower. Its speed, damage and range can all be upgraded and this creates an interesting way to really stretch thinly the gameplay of both games. Swamp Defense 2 is slightly more egregious than MACE Tower Defense but both go all in on gate keeping later levels through waves of enemies you simply cannot clear unless you have invested in upgrading towers for hours. This means its not really skill that gets you home, its grinding for cash. It feels like a mobile free-to-play set up that has not really been adjusted for a full game console purchase and this really makes both games drag.
Instead of focusing on proper tower placement, I replayed the opening level several times to gain 150 cash and after a few replays I could get the damage upgrade I needed to survive the first couple of waves of a new level with a difficulty spike. This would happen every 8 levels or so and it soured my experience on both games. It’s a shame because the basic fundamentals of tower defence gaming are here, correct and present. Graphically its basic but functional, sound is mobile cheap and control wise things are fine on the battlefield but play like it desperately wanted a mouse or touchscreen in the menu. Both games commit the biggest sin by not letting the player win by skill. When its purely a grind, why should I waste my time unchallenged?
Whilst there aren’t many console tower defence games that are budget, fun and accessible – I’d rather you wait for Defense Grid to go on sale. For PC players, these aren’t worthy of your time as so many other budget TD games are better, with more mechanics and personality, that these feel like a relic of over a decade ago. Kingdom Rush, Defense Grid, Core Defense, Cartridge Defense – there’s so so many. Don’t choose this.
MACE Towere Defense | Swamp Defense 2
Functional but bloated in a way that makes me think microtransactions were removed but no thought was given to console players for a better experience.
Plenty of levels if you want them.
All the standard basic TD tropes are alive and well here.
Lacks any personality.
Disregard for player skill makes playing each game a chore.
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