Review: StarDefense supplants Fieldrunners as iPhone's best tower defense game


It has been said time and time again, but really: the iPhone is a damn good gaming device. It’s the perfect platform for tower defense games. Never played one? In tower defense games, players build towers that fire an endless barrage of artillery at an onslaught of enemies. The goal is to kill the enemies before they reach a given target. The classic iPhone tower defense game is Fieldrunners. After being released by SubAtomic Studios, Fieldrunners quickly shot up the ranks of the iPhone App Store, eventually becoming a household name to iPhone owners. Now, ngmoco, a premier iPhone game developer, has teamed up with Rough Cookie to launch its own version of the tower defense game: StarDefense.

StarDefense brings a whole new twist to tower defense: its in 3D. Intrigued? You should be. Each level is a different planet (think: Super Mario Galaxy), and shows up on your screen as either a globe or a cube. You can rotate around the planet by flicking your finger across the screen and zoom in or out by pinching the screen with two fingers. On each planet is a start and an end point (or “defense wall”), with a winding path that wraps around the planet between the two. You are armed with 5 types of towers, and your job is to kill all of the enemies (known as S’rath) before they blow up your defense wall. 10 enemies to the wall and you lose. The enemies come in “waves:” each wave is a group of enemies of the same type, and there is a delay between each wave (with the tap of a button, you can eliminate the delay). To beat each of the worlds, you have to wipe out 60 waves of enemies.

The gameplay is pretty fun. You drag and drop one of 5 towers onto different spots on the planet and strategically place them to optimize the towers’ ability to kill the enemies. You can’t rely too heavily on one tower, because certain enemies may be resistant to them and just walk right past them. This makes for a challenging yet exciting gameplay because it requires creativity and thought to make it through each level. Frankly, tower defense games are like really high-tech, super fun puzzles. Your job is to figure out the right placement and mix of towers to ensure that you kill all of the enemies. You can also upgrade your towers up to 2 times each, adding to the complexity and intricacy of your strategy.

Tower defense games can often be pretty slow-moving, and repetitive. Though still not the fastest game in the world, StarDefense carefully manages the pace of the game to make it more exciting and to keep you on your toes. You often have to upgrade your towers during the middle of a wave, and sometimes don’t even finish off every enemy in a wave before the next one starts. StarDefense’s carefully-crafted rhythm ensures you don’t fall asleep at the wheel, and keeps your mind from wandering off wondering what would happen if aliens descended upon Earth with a quest for destruction.

A major cause for frustration is the repetitiveness of the game. Because there are over 60 waves in each level, and the levels are fairly challenging, it’s not uncommon to get to wave 56 out of 60 and then lose. Bam! You’re back at wave 0. Maybe you like wanting to beat yourself over the head watching the same enemies go down the same path, but I don’t – so 60 waves was a bit overkill. I wouldn’t say this was a deal-breaker by any means, but definitely a downside, and I would’ve preferred 9 levels with 40 waves each instead of the 7 levels with 60 waves that StarDefense has.

iphone-pics-515Now, if there’s one thing about StarDefense that will shock and awe you, its the graphics. They are probably what put this game over the top in my book; the planets, the towers, the enemies – they all look fantastic. The worlds are diverse and well-crafted; you can really tell that ngmoco had some talented designers working on making this game as visually-appealing as possible. The best part is that you can zoom in or out within each world and find yourselves lost, admiring the intricate details of the environment. Next thing you know the bell has rung and it’s time for recess.

The bottom line is the graphics are great and the gameplay is pretty sweet. We’d take it over Fieldrunners or TapDefense. If you’re a fan of those games but feel they’re getting a bit stale, check out StarDefense.

What we like:

  • Gameplay. Despite one drawback, I had a fantastic time playing this game. It was fun, dynamic and had me glued to the screen in ways that most tower defense games can’t achieve.
  • Graphics. Beautiful, simply beautiful. Makes you wonder what ngmoco will cook up on the more powerful iPhone 3GS.
  • The diversity of 7 worlds, 5 towers, and 10 alien species extends the life of StarDefense. Oh, and more worlds will be coming once iPhone OS 3.0 launches.

What we didn’t like:

  • Replay value. Eh, we might play it again, but probably not.
  • Long levels. Losing with just 4 waves of enemies left sucks. Knowing you have to do it again and play through 60 more sucks A LOT.