Air Patriots finds new ground in tower defense, in-app purchases

Mobile and social games present developers with a unique challenge. Since many of the games are simpler and less expensive to make than major console or PC titles, it’s hard to charge much. At the same time, no one expects developers to give everything away. You have to make a profit somehow, which is what brought about the less-than-beloved practice of in-app purchases. Handy for developers and often deplored by players, it’s something that we’ve all learned to live with. But while Amazon tries to take to the skies with Air Patriots, it may be pulled back down by a force stronger than gravity.

Air Patriots enters the App Store in the orbit of tower defense titles. Tasked with protecting the map from invading tanks that aim to penetrate your defenses, players will have to take to the skies to stop them. To do this, you’ll enlist the help of some fancy fliers that will attack from above.

It is this element that gives Air Patriots a refreshing approach to tower defense. By making your defense systems aircrafts, it turns your towers into mobile defenders. You’ll be able to place them on patrol, flying the same pattern in a defined area, or have them bounce across the screen as mercenaries to fight in particularly sticky situations.

Air Patriots

Controls are rather simple. Similar to Flight Control, you’ll define a plane’s path by drawing it on screen. Connecting a route makes it continuous, allowing you to create patrols for certain areas where you’ll need a strong defense force in place. Different planes are available, from fighters to bombers, and can be purchased as you earn coins over the course of the mission. If your planes collide, it can knock them off course. This is especially problematic on a busy map, where a rouge flyer could spoil your entire arsenal’s flight patterns. It’s up to you to maintain these problems while fighting off the many tanks infiltrating your territory.

When an entire wave is defeated, you’ll receive a gear. Gears can be used to purchase other items in the game, like a new map, new planes, more slots, or a screen-wiping bomb that eliminates all enemies in a single blow. The problem with the gears, aside from the fact that they don’t exactly pile up quickly, is that even they are not capable of unlocking everything. Some maps and aircraft have to be purchased through in-app purchases. This is where Amazon gets a little clever. Some items can only be unlocked with gears; some only with cash. This means if you want to experience the entire game, you’ll have to spend some money. Of course, you can also buy gears with cash if you don’t feel like grinding things out for those items, so there is a slight workaround in that regard. But you’ll still have to pony up to get the full game experience.

The worst part about the in-app purchases in Air Patriots is that they’re a little ambiguous. At first blush, it appears you can unlock essentially everything in terms of maps and aircrafts for $3. It’s a price that looks better up front, as it appears and feels as though you’re just playing a demo if you grab the title for free. But it’s also a bit misleading because, while you don’t have to pay to play the game, you’ll eventually have to pay something to unlock everything. That’s a turn-off, even if the asking price isn’t that high. It’s all about presentation, and Air Patriots appears like a bit greedy with its current approach.

Air Patriots

That’s not to take away from the fun of the game, because it does manage to give tower defense titles a nice refresh. The movable paths work well and add a real need to pay attention. It’s a bit of a way to force you to engage, but it doesn’t feel that way. You’ll want to manage your patrols, keep on top of things, and watch as your forces bombard from above. It gets a little repetitive at times–the fast forward button will definitely come in handy–but it’s still a unique enough twist to be worth a play.

It’s hard to take credit away from Air Patriots for trying to do something new, especially when it works. But it only works on the gameplay side of things. Although you’ll have fun playing this game, you won’t enjoy finishing the first map and then being told to pony up some cash to unlock the next one. To experience everything this title has to offer, you will have to pay. That’s not unreasonable, but it’d be nice to know that up front. Consider this your heads up.