Some rings to rule them all…well, some of them, anyway.
In the future, all of Earth’s resources have been depleted, forcing mankind into space to search for alternative energy solutions. The rings and moons of Saturn, being rich deposits for the elements and minerals we need to fuel our never-ending obsession with progress and ease-of-life, become a sort of large-scale energy mine for our struggling race; but all is not well. Hostile aliens have taken notice and will stop at nothing to reclaim their extra-terrestrial territory. Through strategy, patience, and high-tech weaponry, we must fight back to ensure the future stability of our once proud race.
It can sometimes be hard to jump into the tower defense genre, especially for casual gamers. All too often, a cursory glance suggests that there is little in the way of actual gameplay, as many of the mechanics rely on simply setting up offensive and defensive positions, and then performing routine maintenance during attack waves. Saturn Defense, however, takes the myriad of tired tropes and confusing options and boils them down into a simple and addictive formula that’s perfect for gamers ranging from the time killers to tower defense veterans.
It’s easy enough to begin: place varying items (gun turrets, space jets, foot soldiers, etc.) on a grid and then survive the onslaught in waves. With each wave defeated, your enemies will regroup and up their efforts, and this means you must upgrade your weaponry through resources and cash earned during battle. It doesn’t take long before you’re adding attack power or selling/repositioning your turrets, bolstering your infantry, or strengthening your stronghold on the fly. This requires a great deal of strategy and concentration, and despite the inherent mathematical implications, is far more entertaining than it sounds. Inventory management becomes almost an art form as you tap and flick your way to victory.
But it’ll take some trial and error and can be frustrating. Positions are laid out on grids that form various floating space platforms, and though alien attack waves are small and unified at first, the longer you survive, the greater their efforts become. A few automated turrets and missiles might cut it in the beginning, but you’ll need to upgrade your special attacks as the difficulty ramps up. These attacks require a brief cool-down period and timing is everything. Luckily, developer Spice Spin has given Saturn Defense three difficulty levels to toy around with. Newcomers are highly recommended to explore the easy option, as even tower defense veterans will find plenty of challenge while playing on higher levels.
Saturn Defense is a game full of beautifully rendered space environments, and with 30 some-odd enemy types to fight, there are plenty of nicely-rendered visuals to see. Even more impressive is the sheer number of assets that appear onscreen at any given time. As each attack wave adds more and more foes, the game never slows down for an instant. And the further you delve into later levels, the more you’ll find that Spice Spin’s vision of Saturn and its surrounding areas is bright and exciting.
The more you play, the more infantry options you’ll unlock. These come in the form of space Marines, gun-wielding robots and—get this—gun-wielding super robots. Both foot soldiers and weapons/artillery are upgradeable via cash earned from defeating aliens or the now seemingly unavoidable micro-transaction. Items range from under a buck to ludicrous in price, and unlocking powerful allies with real-world money basically defeats the purpose of playing in the first place. It is understood that micro-transactions are now a part of the F2P model for better or worse, but the ability to place a gigantic robot with Gatling gun arms into the fray on early levels eliminates any sense of accomplishment that comes from earning such a badass through gameplay.
Music is everything you’d expect in a space-based title: electronic and barely noticeable. This isn’t to say it detracts from the experience, just that it is hardly exciting. The little “pews” and “booms” of lasers and explosions are satisfying on an old-school-game-sound-effects-are-cute level, but lack any major impact. Even with headphones, sound effects don’t create a feeling of power. That said, sound design does border on pleasant. Seriously—Saturn Defense may well mark the first instance of a game’s sound effects enjoying a similar status as that song you can’t get out of your head.
Far too often the game has difficulty registering the spot you’ve chosen to lay down equipment. When played on an iPad, this problem rears its head far less often, but those who wish to play on their phone will perhaps notice more than their fair share of problems. This could be a finger size issue, but even a slightly larger area might have helped. Granted, developers toy with all sorts of configurations when it comes to balance, but it is never fun when death is a result of oversight.
Tower defense fans will feel right at home with Saturn Defense, while skeptics will hardly be swayed. Still, anyone who gives the title a chance will find that it isn’t hard to be sucked in. The absolute best way to describe the game would probably be as competent; it is perfectly fun, marginally challenging, and nice to look at, but is in no way a benchmark for the genre as a whole. Yes, Saturn Defense is free, and there are dozens of hours just waiting to be played: just don’t expect it to pop up on any year-end best of lists, or even be remembered a few months down the road.