Witch Touching

After recent trysts with the Tower Defense genre, I think I’ve actually gotten to the point where I can consider myself a fan.  It’s a genre that can be very formulaic at times, but I believe the similarities between tower defense games actually serve to accentuate the creative touches that make particular titles stand out.  Of the ones I’ve played and enjoyed – Defense Grid, Plants Vs. Zombies, Fantasy Defense – I can point to something about each one and say “This is fun, and this makes it worth playing this game.”

Then we get to my most recent flirtation with iOS gaming: Defense Witches, which I played because I figured, well, I seem to like these Tower Defense things, and I like me some fantasy, so this really ought to push all the right buttons.

I can save you a lot of reading by saying “It didn’t, and I really can’t recommend this game”, but that would be rather anticlimactic.  So, please forget that I said anything and let’s continue.

The plot of Defense Witches – and it does have a plot, of sorts – is that there’s a magical academy, see, and that it trains witches – oddly enough – but that most of the upperclassmen happen to be away on holiday at just the point where some evil demon god king decides to make YET ANOTHER attempt to break out of his magical prison where he has been sealed away blah blah blah so you’re left to defend the world with, well, the ones that just happen to be left in the building.

Something like that.  The plot is kind of skimpy.

No, seriously.

Surprisingly, “skimpy” is an adjective that applies to the plot but not to the outfits on the witches.  There’s a certain Touhou vibe to the character designs, all frills and lace and generally modest.  It’s almost enough to make me skip my traditional “Oh, JAPAN” moment.

Then I read the character descriptions from the entry in the iTunes store:

Nicola : She pretends to be a calm character but actually tends to follow the surrounding circumstances. She is sensitive about the growth of her breasts. She likes Daisy too.

Oh, JAPAN.  What are we going to do with you?

Admittedly Nicola IS a bit boyish in the girlish department, but STILL…

Anyway, so you have witches instead of traditional towers.  You start off with one witch:

This is Daisy.  She’s your basic short-range rapid-fire witch.  Even though she’s the very first unit you get, she’s really quite useful.

Adding another witch gets you Becky, a long range slow-rate-of-fire witch whose attacks add a damage-over-time component.

Then comes Chloe, who adds a PBAE stun.  Mixing your Chloes and your Daisies is pretty damned lethal.

I just wrote that last sentence with a straight face. I’m still having trouble believing it.

The last character I unlocked was Nicola, and I ground through the levels to unlock her solely so I could see if her character bio screen in the game had the same comments about breast size that the iTunes application description had.

When I say “ground through the levels”, you might imagine that I had to beat quite a few levels to unlock Nicola, and I actually didn’t – that’s part of the problem.  You unlock Nicola after level 10, right when most Tower Defense games are starting to slowly ease back on the training wheels and get interesting, and right at the point where I realized that all I really had to look forward to was tedium, and no amount of cute witches in frilly outfits was going to make up for it.

Now, I have put up with some pretty B-grade games in exchange for cute girls, so that’s saying something.

Unfortunately, Defense Witches drops the ball on being fun in a few crucial ways:

First, the game really doesn’t give you a whole lot of information.  I spent a lot of time upgrading my witches during levels, but I was never sure whether I was making good choices.  I know that Becky does MORE damage than Daisy, for example, but I don’t know if a level 3 Daisy does more damage than a level 1 Becky.

Second, there’s no fast forward button and no way to rewind.  I failed one level at the very end, something like the 25th of 25 waves and had to start over from scratch, watching wave after wave of slow-moving critters tediously drag themselves across the screen to be slaughtered by my Daisy force, not really needing to pay attention until roughly wave 20.  A rewind button would have been nice to give it a go again from roughly wave 24, or a fast forward button would have made sitting through the waves a little less painful. I got neither.

Third, while a free application DOES need to support itself via a cash shop, the one in Defense Witches managed to rub me exactly the wrong way from the get-go.

Most free apps-with-cash-store have some sort of in-game currency.  For Montowers, it was “Tokens”, for Fantasy Defense “Hero Points”, and Defense Witches has “Crystals”.

Most free apps give the player a little chance to earn some of this currency through playing, even if it’s only given at a trickle.  It needs to be just enough to give the player a taste of what he could get in bulk lots for a very small fee.  Defense Witches doesn’t even give you this trickle – if you want some crystals, you’d best be pulling out the old credit card.

This wouldn’t be TOO bad if it weren’t for the next bit:  The stuff you buy with crystals is all temporary.  Want an advanced witch unit on one stage?  Pony up some crystals, she’s yours – but if you want her again next stage you’ll be paying again for the privilege.

I may be just a touch cynical, but it really feels like the developers are hoping that you’ll get frustrated enough at failing a level that you’ll pay a little bit to get the edge you need to get through the level, get to that next level – or maybe the one after – get frustrated again, and, well, you’ve already shoveled some money into the application and it feels stupid to give up now…

In the end, it was three-strikes-and-out for me.  I’ll be keeping it on my iPad so I’m alerted of updates – maybe they’ll tweak it and it will become just a little more player-friendly, after all – but for now there are lots of other games to be playing.


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