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Game Review: Tower One – Sky Defense

Tower One: Sky Defense is the latest entry in what has recently re-emerged as one of the most popular video game types, tower defense games. Thanks to the fact that nearly every person over the age of 12 has a gaming system (and computer, and video camera, etc.) in their pockets, gaming has never been more prevalent for people of all ages and with that has come a lot of re-hashing of old school, simplified games that look a lot prettier than they did back in the late 70’s/early 80’s but typically have the same gameplay and objective. The games that find success in doing that are the ones that subvert the type of game, or trope, that they’re basing their game on and that’s why I’ve decided to start my video game review series with Tower One: Sky Defense, as it doesn’t feel like a rehash of a classic arcade or Atari game like Missile Command or Space Invaders, but rather a really great new entry into one of the most hallowed genres of gaming.

When it comes to the success of any game things typically boil down to the same common denominators for games that are either successful or gigantic bombs and one of the most common of those denominators, especially with smartphone gaming, is how intuitive the controls are. That can vary from really any sort of game, from a tower defense game to a sports game, if you don’t feel natural while playing the game or if the layout is frustrating, there’s little chance that you’ll spend your free time playing that game as many of us look to games as ways to pass the time or de-stress, not to add more stress to our lives. Luckily, the controls behind Tower One are arguably the best of any Tower Defense game I’ve played, which is additionally important considering the limited actual controls games like these have.

Most tower defense games really only rely on a couple of factors in their gameplay and Tower One is no different in that anticipation and timing are the main factors that’ll determine whether or not you’ll make it beyond the first few levels. With your tower being centrally located on a series of islands, and your missiles being (at least initially) pretty slow, you’ll have to figure out the how to time your rockets perfectly in order to take out enemies before they get within striking distance (especially if you’re trying to accomplish all three tasks per stage, one of which typically has a minimum amount of damage allowed). If there’s any lag in a game that is that precise people will get frustrated for the wrong reasons and stop playing and so it was great to find out that Tower One has super intuitive and smooth controls. Most app/game developers use psychological tricks to encourage people to feel rewarded or a certain kind of frustrated the same way that old school cartridge game developers did, in that people will attempt to beat the same levels over and over again if they’re legitimately difficult and not just difficult because the gameplay is awful. So, as long as people feel like they’re losing justly, they’ll spend countless hours attempting to beat a level or best a high score and after even a few minutes playing Tower One, it was clear that this was that type of game. An old school kind of difficult that had me engaged almost immediately and worried that I might end up neglecting some of my other games/apps in the process.

Part of the reward system mentioned above that most, if not all “Fremium” apps/games employ involve the ability to upgrade your weapons thanks to a combination of in-game, earned money and also time. While Tower One obviously does require time (and lots of effort) to obtain the in-game money needed for upgrades, there weren’t additional waiting times necessary for those upgrades which is honestly such a nice change of pace in an industry that clearly/heavily implies that if you really want to compete or get anything done, you’ll need to spend a lot of REAL money. Sure, there’s that option for the super-impatient as well, but it doesn’t feel necessary and that’s something that shows you that the developers actually are in this for the right reasons, for the love of gaming as opposed to the love of money. Beyond that, though, leveling up weapons and armor has been super gratifying since the days of Contra and Tower One does a great job of finding new and cool ways to upgrade weapons that people who are familiar with tower defense games will be used to.

You can really upgrade your weapons in every way possible, for example, from the speed your rockets reach their destination, the damage that the inflict, the reload time between rockets and even the range of damage each missile also inflicts, you definitely feel like you’re in complete control of your weapons cache, which helps personalize Tower One in a way that some of its competition doesn’t. That’s what makes this one of the better tower defense games I’ve played, actually, as it’s clear that the people behind it have played basically every other tower defense game and have left no stone unturned in their attempt to create the best tower defense game in the… Game. So, with that in mind, let’s talk about some of the ways that Tower One: Sky Defense is different from the competition.

The first obvious way is implied in the name, Tower One. Unlike other tower defense games, Tower One has… You guessed it, ONE tower to defend. Tower defense games have really been around since the dawn of gaming, with classic games like Missile Command arriving on the gaming scene before games even entered homes (although it was ported on the Atari 5200) and most of those games had one thing in common, that the player was able to utilize more than one tower in defense of their territory. While you’d think that restricting the game to one tower you’d be missing out on the action that multiple towers implies, it’s actually the opposite of that as the simplicity of the game ends up making it a lot more harrowing and high stakes. Every missile fired, especially early on in the game (or against bosses) is extremely important as there is very little room for error when your missiles are slower and have a longer reload time, so in a way the people behind Tower One found a perfect balance between action and suspense by simplifying a game type that had gotten a bit too crazy and easy as of late.

Beyond the controls and upgrades, another thing that was really enjoyable about Tower One was the way the game looked. The graphics were really well done and while they did remind you of a few other games (like Boom Beach), they were distinctive enough to really carve out their own aesthetic. From the tower itself to the animations needed for each individual plane, helicopter, explosion and boss battle, everything feels like it’s part of the same universe and looks natural and smooth, which helps keep you enthralled and engaged. Outside of that, also, the word “Simple” has been used a few times while describing Tower One and that’s something I wanted to elaborate on because it could be taken out of context. Instead of the word simple, perhaps I should’ve described Tower One as not overly complicated for the sake of being overly complicated, as there is actually a fair amount of diversity and complexity to the game that will keep you playing time and time again.

For example, every enemy in the game has different speeds, routes, depths and attack methods that they use whether they’re the same type or different type of baddie. So, you’ll never really know what to expect either when you experience a new level or enemy type or replay a level that you’ve beaten multiple times. Some low-level enemies, for example, may stay on the periphery, while others may come together in a group and fly straight for the tower. It’s that variability that really hints towards the best aspect of Tower One, it’s replay value, which would be amazing even if it were a $5-$10 game, but considering that it’s free (and that it’s not forcing you to pay for upgrades unless you really want to) mean that, again, the developers of Tower One had their hearts in the right place and that’s really the best position to be in as a new game developer. Outside of the variety in attack routes from the baddies, there’s also the sheer difficulty that’ll make it so you’ll probably need to re-try each level a few times before beating all three tasks per level, which also helps with the replay value.

There are also a myriad of different types of enemy and support vehicles that you’ll have to learn the intricacies of and just when you do that you’ll encounter different bosses as well, each of which is difficult in it’s own way and also different enough to really keep you coming back for more even after you’ve completed the Story Mode (and entered into “Endless Mode”). That’s right, Tower One also differentiates itself from the competition by also having multiple game modes, the first of which is a fully fleshed out story or plot that connects each level to the next thanks to the suggestions and narrative of an one-eyed General! While there’s a joke in there somewhere, it’s that level of story that really makes it surprising that Tower One: Sky Defense is a free game, one that is definitely worth the time it’d take you to download and the space on your phone to keep. Within that main story, also, are differing types of levels that also keep the game fresh as you progress through the levels. While most levels have three objectives per (for example; getting X amounts of hits in a row, passing the level for X amount of health, destroying X amount of baddies) there are also “Survival” levels that basically just ask you to hunker down and not die for X amount of seconds or minutes. It’s that varied gameplay that also keeps the game fresh, the player guessing and the replay nearly infinity. So; do yourself a favor and check this game out even if you’re new to the tower defense genre! With it’s social media capabilities allowing you to compare every aspect of your skills against your friends (from overall score, high score, total kills, accuracy, amount of ammo used and the amount of combos used, etc.) it’s also something that you can compete with your friends on, which at the end of the day is really why we all game in the first place.

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