** EDIT 6/28/12: Spoids‘ price has been reduced to 80 MSP (from 240), and an Update has been released. Scroll to the end of the review to read about the new changes and opinions. **
Full disclosure: I’m not currently, nor have I ever been, a huge fan of tower defense games. I appreciate their ideas, I don’t deny they can be innovative, and I’d certainly never dismiss any game on a glance or genre alone, but I never actively seek them out. Off the top of my head, I can only think of two recent TDs, Toy Soldiers and Iron Brigade, that I’ve spent any meaningful time with. And in the case of both games, it wasn’t even the tower defense idea that drew me in. I’m a hands-on kind of guy. I don’t like to sit back and wait for my prey to attack me, or meticulously build and maintain a fort. Again, I realize the allure is there, but without some kind of alternate play at work, like direct control of units or an FPS / Shooter hybrid, these games fail to hold my interest for long.
Spoids (80 MSP), which doesn’t blur genre lines, and whose lone tenant is tower defense, deserves immediate recognition for keeping me intrigued beyond the first eight minutes. I credit the tutorial mission that pulls double duty; making me feel like I’m going to be a golden god at this game (ultimately a lie), and two, doing a fine job at introducing players to a galaxy under siege by an alien race known simply as Spoids, the oddly-shaped menaces you’ll be defending various planets from.
Its design is straightforward. Enemy waves shuffle out of the green zone(s) on the map, then snake through the grid-like maze towards the red exit(s). Your mission, and you have no choice but to accept it, is to prevent too many baddies from getting through, surviving until the clock counts down to zero. Naturally this involves the building up of defenses.
Thankfully, the Spoids have a singular goal of reaching the end, and won’t destroy anything you place, alleviating some of the management-al burden of fighting a war and watching individual unit health.
The defenses themselves never obscure your view, and once the firefights begin, nothing is too flashy or confusing. Here it helps that the graphics are simple. Though the art is lacking any sort of unique splendor, the game’s intention is spent towards having the cleanest interface and playing field possible, letting the TD aspect speak for itself and work its magic. Points are scored for developer AirWave Games giving the game a story, vanilla as it is, with fully-voiced pre and post-match reports. Some of the accents are less than believable, but there’s nothing overtly amateur night-ish about it either.
Introduction to new enemy types is handled diligently, one mission at a time, and always with a heads up tutorial and a new weapon emplacement, ensuring you continue to pack a punch against the evolving aliens. These include fliers that ignore stage boundaries, big (but slower) boss types, and the invisible Faders, that require radar expose them. Zoomers, the spoids that fill the speedy enemy slot and make their appearance from the start, actually turned out to be the most frustrating type. Your guns seem to lock on to the most significant threats, which is nice, but when Zoomers catch up to previous waves and intermingle, your emplacements have a tough time distinguishing them, leading to a lot of failed missions on my end no matter how well I had deployed. Every time the v.o. announced another Zoomer wave, I tensed up, knowing it was likely a make or break moment.
To the uninitiated, this looks like chaos. Spoids veterans, notice his heart count is down to 3, with two big daddies lumbering towards that exit. Dude, you’re totally screwed.
One other thing I’ll mention is the somewhat uneven difficulty. Each stage has three objectives on a timer, and upon completion, you’re rewarded accordingly with medals (snag a Platinum to unlock an unlimited wave mode in that stage). Completing the first objective and winning a bronze in any given map is the lone requirement for victory, but to earn anything other than a bronze requires you to outlast enemy waves for a further two objective timers. Yet I always seemed to be just short on the cash to turn the tide, my defenses were set up in a way other than the game meant for me to be, or, gulp, the Zoomers did me in. Going back to try again, I managed silver on a few of the later stages, though it often felt like I was getting lucky, rather than it occurring naturally or because of newfound skill. I realize challenge is part of the process, and it’s a small gripe, but it deserves airing for those with short tempers.
Spoids comes off as tower-defense-by-the-book. It does an admirable job at keeping things fresh, and it’s certainly not lacking in polish or presentation, yet it’s also not doing much to move the genre forward. Déjà vu is a frequent occurrence. I’ve played games like Spoids before, though I did feel compelled to go back to previous missions to try and raise my medal ranks, mostly in futility, but I did try. That says something about its construction and charm. There’s plenty of TD games on the XBLIG channel, but not very many that play this smoothly or look as clean. As such, it comes recommended.
The original review for Spoids (above) recommended the game, but stopped short of calling it a must-buy. It wasn’t for lack of effort; it’s still one of the most polished Tower Defense-types you can find on the marketplace. The game’s difficulty, however, significantly contributed to our lukewarm recommendation. Now more than two months later, Spoids is back with both an update to address that gripe and a cheaper price (80 MSP).
Before getting into new opinions, I’d like to thank developer AirWave Games for listening to reviewers’ and players’ feedback, accepting that the game was a bit out of balance, and doing the right thing to accommodate some people’s concerns. More indie developers need to be as receptive to criticism as they have been. On to the show!
While my review did cover all the basics and give you an honest assessment of the minute-to-minute gameplay, the difficulty during extended enemy waves in the later stages did prevent me from finishing the game. My chief antagonists were the Zoomers that sped past all my chokepoints regardless of layout, laughing as they did so, although Fliers (and their mothership) also spammed my airspace at inconvenient times.
Booting the game up after downloading the update, I went immediately to the level I had gotten stuck on. The Zoomers remained as problematic as ever, yet Fliers were noticeably less in number and easier to counter, same for the hulking mini-boss types. To that end, I was able to complete the game’s final two levels (only restarting twice AND earning Gold), something I hadn’t been able to accomplish in multiple retries before the update. For a guy that readily admits his lack of TD skill, clearly the new balancing worked in my favor. Taking that one step farther and returning to previous stages where I’d only earned Bronze, I was able to achieve Silver or Gold, usually on the first go-through.
For a full list of items addressed in the latest version of Spoids, see the comments section for Indie Gamer Chick’s second chance with the game to get the developer’s thoughts on the update and some tricks to deploying and improving your defense.
So, in the end, is Spoids still worth it? Yes, and more so. The once-punishing later stages have been made much more manageable and forgiving, as are enemy waves in general. Reduced costs and damage boosts for certain emplacements also help. Our score of $3 remains accurate, and improves your chances with the game threefold now that the price has been lowered. — TH