Well-made tower defense game comes up a little short on fun.

Anyone who’s ever gardened can testify that there are a lot of challenges to growing produce, thanks to the environment alone. But there’s nothing more irritating than vermin feasting on the fruits and vegetables that one’s worked so hard to grow. The developers behind Garden Panic, a new tower defense game for PCs and Macs, know this and are giving players the opportunity to get even with all the bugs and rodents that ever ruined their fruits and vegetables.

The gameplay is pretty standard for the genre. There are a total of nine levels with winding paths that insects (and other common garden pests) swarm across. The pests are trying to get into the strawberry patches that players have to defend. Instead of standard towers, players place pea-shooters, tomato plants, poison flowers, cacti, and corn-plants around the map in order to fend off the invaders. As the plants take out the vermin, they earn experience points that let players level them up and, gradually, evolve into more powerful forms.

None of these maps are overly large, but they become increasingly complex with each level. Enemy movement is a pretty slow affair, even when one moves the game speed up to its maximum level. However, players can make the action a bit more frantic by choosing to launch waves early and earn bonus points.

Every time a map is beaten, players earn experience points and stars that they use to upgrade their plants in The Lab. As players’ experience levels increase, they gain access to new plants and their subsequent evolved forms. Stars are then spent on the plant upgrades. The Lab provides a clever RPG-like feeling to the game as it gives players the opportunity to increase things like a plant-type’s firing range, experience point acquisition, and damage levels.

Garden Panic

Visually, Garden Panic is a bit mixed. The menu paintings show plants and insects with a lot of personality. This art hints at a cartoon-like, whimsical style. However, the actual game art is much more straightforward and bland. It’s not bad, but it’s a rather dull letdown after being teased with visuals that seem like they’d be a lot of fun to look at.

The quality of the soundtrack is similar: alright, but nothing to write home about. It’s a cute MIDI-like score that doesn’t really do much to either sweeten or sour the overall experience.

Once the game’s been beaten, there’s a level editor that will help players keep things fresh. Unfortunately, the editor isn’t all that intuitive. Laying out a map is fairly easy, but placing spawn/end points for the waves of enemies is easier said than done because the editor doesn’t offer any instructions on how to link them together. As a result, players shouldn’t be surprised if they find themselves constantly being told that they can’t save their custom map.

Garden Panic

Garden Panic is one of those moderately-entertaining games that feels like it could be a lot better with a little work. It’s cute, well-made, and it provides enough challenge to be mildly addicting, but it there’s a distinct lack of real fun here. Between this and the frustrations with the level editor, it’s tough to recommend this instead of something like Plants vs. Zombies. That said, tower defense fans might want to check it out with the free one-hour demo that Big Fish Games offers before committing to buy it.