Do we really need another Tower Defense game on the iPhone? Yes, the genre is well suited to the device’s multi-touch screen, but, well, we already have the excellent Fieldrunners, as well as roughly 100,000 other Tower Defense games on the App Store (note: not an actual estimate). In this crowded market, does TowerMadness do enough to justify its mere existence? Sure.
This time around you’re laying down your gun towers to protect a pen of sheep from a selection of marching 3D alien baddies, who swoop in on elaborate flying saucers. The easier levels include your basic grey, oval headed sci-fi stereotypes, along with some quick moving giant ants, and flying ships that can bypass your tower maze entirely. As the difficulty ramps up, though, the aliens put on elaborate armors and their UFOs unleash larger, tougher boss monsters, who occasionally piggyback on each other rather amusingly. The coming alien wave types are presented well in a small queue on the bottom of the screen, which becomes absolutely crucial to planning an evolving strategy to deal with their ever-changing attacks.
On the tower side, the game does a good job presenting its varied array of nine weapons slowly, so figuring out how to use them isn’t overwhelming. There are the cheap pea-shooters, good for setting up zig-zagging labyrinths for the aliens to cross through and for cheap upgrades later on. There are various ranges of missile launchers that damage a small area of the map rather than a specific alien. There are armor-piercing lasers and alien-piercing railguns and alien-slowing freeze rays and even towers designed specifically to empower other, surrounding towers. Figuring out which towers work well together (and which are most cost effective for the current situation) is key to success, and requires some serious trial and error before mastering.
Luckily, the game is well-balanced enough to allow you some relatively easy victories while going through that trial and error, while still leaving room to ramp up the difficulty once you’re an expert. Even on maps that you’ve already mastered, you can always go back and choose to send in a flood of alien ships rather than the usual trickle. This move not only increases the difficulty and replay value of the game’s well-designed and varied maps, but also adds bonus points to your final score.
The only small problem I had with TowerMadness came from the sometimes awkward controls. The game’s large maps require a lot of pinching and zooming to navigate — you’ll have to get in pretty close to lay down units precisely, then immediately zoom back out again to see the bigger picture and plan your next move. It feels like there should be a quicker control option for this common move. Furthermore, the simple screen tap that lets you place a new tower is sometimes misread instead as a small swipe that moves your view of the map. Even if the tap is interpreted correctly, it takes another two taps through a small menu to actually lay down the unit. Both of these problems are minor annoyances early on, but become major headaches when a long line of enemies is threatening to get by the last of your defenses.
TowerMadness provides the usual lineup of online leaderboards, as well as the useful ability to download and watch replays of those with the highest scores on each map. This provides a great, intuitive way to learn strategy as well as an entertaining way to waste some time watching the game’s most impressive players show off their skills. The developers even offer occasional monetary rewards for specific online scoring competitions, no doubt encouraging addicts to continue playing long after it’s good for them.
Despite the crowded marketplace it finds itself in, TowerMadness manages to set itself apart with simple, well-balanced gameplay and a strong sense of design. It’s not the new category leader by a long shot, but it’s a perfectly inoffensive way to spend your money and your time.