Ah, tower defence! How you are loved and loathed in equal measure. A genre whose origin is difficult to trace, but is now host to literally thousands of titles, tower defence games tickle a unique part of the gamers psyche, lulling us into a focused but simultaneously soporific trance-like state. There are few more absorbing genres, and for that reason tower defence games are easy to lose hours, days and even whole weekends to.
In such a competitive market, it takes something special to stand out. While Popcap leveraged their humour and focused on simplicity with their seminal Plants Vs Zombies, Puppy Games have chosen a different approach and released a retro-tinged title with a striking visual style and hardcore aesthetic. Revenge of the Titans is striking, gorgeous and brutally challenging. There’s little hand-holding; like games of a bygone age it is willing to teach you through crushing failure.
The most surprising thing is how much you will welcome the challenge. As I motored through the singleplayer campaign, it was not until my first defeat that I really started to pay attention to the game mechanics. There’s little guidance given about how best to position your turrets, and the first time that a giant boss enemy levels your base will probably be the first time you start thinking carefully about how to set up your defences.
This lack of guidance is one of the most appealing things about the game. While many tower defence games now guide you from level to level, showcasing one new enemy type or one new defence each time, Revenge of the Titan’s instead lets you unlock new weapons in a tech tree using a system not too different from RTS titles. Investing in either nuclear power or alien xeno-biology will have markedly different effects in game and trial and error quickly becomes a feature of the game. Its a difficult thing to get right; to make a game both challenging without it being too frustrating, but Puppy Games have nailed it. Each time you replay a level you are better equipped to face the threat, and its not because you have more powerful defences but because your knowledge of the game systems are deeper.
The enemies, known as Titan’s, are full of character. Animated simply but menacingly, there is something genuinely frightening about seeing them encroach on your territory. While they move slowly over open land, they travel quickly over roads and this determines the placement of your turrets. You need to defend the roads, but also be aware of rogue Titans sneaking off-road. The volume of enemies is perhaps the most impressive aspect of the game. The waves of enemies may look like space invaders, but they don’t come in rows but rather in whole screen-filling mobs.
The action quickly escalates to pandemonium. The screen fills with enemies from all sides as the levels progress, and in amongst the smaller Titans are huge monsters who roar in a genuinely unnerving way as they stomp your defences. The ferocity of the enemy is matched by the speed and accuracy with which you can build defences. You won’t be winning many battles with three or four turrets, rather you will be dragging your mouse across the screen with the button held down to build whole, virtual Maginot Lines. Having played many tower defence games on touch devices, its emancipating to return to a mouse and the simple but bleedingly efficient method of building defences means you have no excuse but your own failure when you are overrun.
Presentation is minimalist but effective throughout. Outside of the startlingly attractive battles, the menus and tech trees have a retro charm that’s reminiscent of something the Bitmap Brothers might have made. The music meanwhile is forgettable, but the gibberish-speech of the characters between missions is amusing and not too similar to Simglish.
Outwith the main game mode there are a range of predictable modes like survival. Replay value isn’t necessarily that high, but the campaign is long and tough anyway so its not too much of an issue.
Its testament to the strength of Revenge of the Titan’s the I enjoyed it despite having played a lot of tower defence games recently. It has a few original ideas, but it is also so well executed that its well worth the relatively low price point. Building turrets is often fun, but in Revenge of the Titans the sheer scale of the chaos on screen makes it more than just enjoyable, its essential.
8 great big Titans, smashing my base out of 10