When you hear the term “Mikado”, you probably assume that the conversation has veered onto the topic of Gilbert & Sullivan musicals. However, what many people don’t realize is that the word is actually an old term used for the Emperor of Japan that eventually fell out of style. Mikado Defenders, a new tower defense game out for the iPhone this week, has nothing to do with the former topic and much more to deal with the latter.
The intro to the game provides an epic-sounding story about a medieval Japan that’s ripped apart by civil war. Because things have gotten so bad, demons have risen up from the underworld and are hell-bent on conquering the Island of Nippon. This sounds cool, but plot is rarely dealt with after it first appears as the game loads. Really, the game’s story boils down to the following: there’s a base that probably houses the Japanese emperor (based on the title), and it’s up to you to prevent infernal hordes from getting to it.
Visually, the game is mixed. At first glance it seems top-knotch. Zoomed out, the level maps seem like they’re straight out of an illuminated scroll filled with calligraphic artwork. There’s texture, faded colors, and illustration styles that all seem like they’re right out of Feudal Japan. However when you zoom in, jagged edges and pixilation become visible on the phone display. On-screen units are the same: they look alright at first, but they display a surprising lack of detail and some rather junky-looking animation when you zoom in.
At the same time, when character portraits are displayed on the screen (there are a number of reasons for this) they are stunning in their artistry and detail. They look like concept art from a Final Fantasy game. If you want to just enjoy the game’s style, it’s probably best to just stay zoomed out and imagine that the game’s units look as good as the descriptive art used to show what these units are supposed to appear as.
In terms of gameplay, Mikado Defenders doesn’t seem all that original compared to so many other tower defense games. There are a number of pre-selected spots that you can place units on to stop approaching demons in their tracks. You have different types of units to call upon -melee, ranged, and everything in between- in order to defend your camp from the corresponding hordes of invading demons. Different types of terrain allow for minor advantages in combat, and it takes a little while to figure out what combinations of units are best suited to each campaign. Your units can be upgraded, evolving after a few levels into more impressive forms that can hold their own against more powerful opponents.
This is all pretty standard, but depth is added via elements like Guardian Spirits, commander units, and base upgrades. Guardian Spirits are effectively weapons of last resort that take a while to charge up. Once fully-charged, you can choose to unleash their powers whenever you want (though it’s usually best to do this when your other units have been overrun); the effects vary depending on which type of spirit you’ve picked for a map. The dragon unleashes a devastating lightning attack, the firebird unleashes a fiery inferno, the turtle will protect your headquarters and slow enemies, and the tiger makes units invulnerable.
Commander units are unlockable as the game progresses. These provide varying field bonuses like increased unit attributes and lowered construction costs. Bases can be upgraded by beefing up the surrounding walls and adding defense towers, as well as upgrading the base itself from a tent to (eventually) a walled fortress.
The one glaring flaw with the game, though, is that enemies move very slowly across the map. Even when you speed the game up as fast as it can go, units seem to move about half as fast as they should.
Ultimately, Mikado Defenders is a very stylized, well-made tower defense game that is both stylish and solid. It doesn’t rewrite the book when it comes to the genre, but it does enough differently to stand out in a crowded field; more importantly, it requires a lot more thought and strategy than usual to successfully play.