Michael McConnell, July 26, 2012
Tower Defense is a genre that went from obscurity to over-saturation at light speed. That rise and fall took place almost entirely in the iOS App Store. An early but longstanding standout in this genre was Subatomic Studio’s Fieldrunners. It excelled through a combination of unique art style, good game design, and replay-ability. Subatomic released the highly anticipated sequel, Fieldrunners 2, last week. The game keeps the same winning formula as the original, but expands the game in every way.
What’s my motivation?
Tower defense has always been a bit light on the story. There wasn’t much of a need to explain why you were setting up turrets to shoot down the enemies trying to invade. The first Fieldrunners just gave you a menu of stages to choose from. Fieldrunners 2 gives you a World Map, and little panels of story as you start each stage. Fieldrunners 2 still isn’t going to give you an in-depth, story driven experience. Think Ms. Pac-Man, not Final Fantasy. The world map and the story are simply a nod to how much more work went into creating this game.
New, new, new
The worst thing in gaming are sequels that are little more than a fresh coat of paint. In iOS, if you’re going to make players pay you again, you better give them something more than a quick facelift. Subatomic has added more than enough to Fieldrunners 2 to justify the price. Beyond the story and world map, there’s also three new kinds of maps. The first type is a time attack. Rather then giving you your lives, you’re given a time limit to kill a certain number of runners. It’s a small tweak, but enough to make the game play differently. Another tweaked level is where you have to kill a certain amount of enemies before they overwhelm you. This is another twist as you have a low threshold of misses, changing the way you approach building the level. The most interesting tweak is the puzzle levels; instead of simply being given free reign to eliminate the runners, resources are limited. You’re given a set amount of turrets to route the runners through a specific gate. This really changes the way you play about the game, making you think more about pathing than your arsenal.
The runners get their own upgrades with several new unit types. Nothing too shocking, mostly just variations on existing unit types. Your towers get a lot of attention here, with several new versions. Instead of linking the towers to different modes and maps, you unlock new towers as you go. Some of the standout new towers include the Hive Tower, Nuke Tower, and Oil Tower. These aren’t revolutionary changes, and most of them are locked until you complete a fair amount of the game. As you complete levels, you’re rewarded stars based on the difficulty, and these are used to automatically unlock new towers as you go along. However, you only have a limited number of slots to use, so you’ll have to balance the cost versus overall power. The wrong loadout can make the game even more difficult.
The game also adds items, which significantly changes the gameplay. These are unlockable as well, but they require coins. The items are pretty varied. You start with Rewind, which simply turns the game back three rounds. Then there are Smart Mines, Inferno, and Plague, which can be placed anywhere as a saving throw against escaping runners. If you played the first game a lot, these aren’t going to break into your gameplay very easily, but when you do remember them they come in handy. Coins are awarded after finishing levels, but are awarded even if you fail. The amount varies based on the number of waves you beat, difficulty, and the number of towers you sold.
War isn’t pretty, well there’s an exception to every rule.
Fieldrunners 2 really builds on the original game’s unique art style. This means that the game has instant familiarity; but if you flip back to the original game, you see all the facelifts. All of the units get a lot more detail, including your towers. The sheen really looks nice on Retina displays, but if you’re playing on a non-Retina iPhone or iPad, it might not have the same gloss.
Fieldrunners 2 is the best kind of sequel. It improves on the original, but adds enough new material to stand alone. This game has a pretty long difficulty curve, and should keep most players transfixed for some time.Follow @macgasm