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Dungeon Defense Crypt Edition

 
Out of virtually nowhere comes Dungeon Defense (DD hereafter) from InMotion Software LLC to hit me upside the head with a frozen soda.  Just when I thought the tower defense genre was tapped like an empty keg, once again a wily developer has found a way to revitalize, innovate and rise above the glut in the app store.  Call me cliche but this is TD with a genuine (pronounced gen-YOO-EIN) twist.  Yes, the overall goal of the game is still to prevent baddies from traversing a set path but when it comes to the execution of that goal, all bets are off as DD zooms on ahead of the pack.  There’s actually no backstory at all, just know ye that under your command is an evil skeleton army hell-bent on protecting its dungeon’s treasure horde and mighty Dungeon King from a steady stream of pesky heroes who lust for what you probably stole from them in the first place (but I digress).



 
There are no options in the game, you simply load it up and press Start (or resume if you have a game in progress).  You begin with 200 gold to your credit (ironically not much of a horde eh?) which is enough to get you 2 skeleton swordsmen.  There are no towers in this game; instead the path contains strategically placed spawn points where you’re allowed to conjure up a single unit.  That spawn point them becomes the unit’s permanent ‘home’ as it will always return there after a battle to regenerate hit points.  Should it die in battle, it will lay in a crumpled, bony heap until a visual timer expires, at which point it reconstitutes on the spot and either rejoins the battle at full health or ambles back to it’s spawn.  You have no direct control over your army, they automatically move to attack any approaching heroes and not always intelligently.  However, this to me is part of the strategy element and it’s all about where and when you place units and subsequently upgrade them.  Upgrading, nay let’s call it leveling up since we’re on the fantasy kick, a unit is accomplished easily with a touch that brings up a small menu where you can level up, heal/revive or sell.  Note there’s no penalty for selling as the game unfortunately keeps no score or stats.  Later in the game you’ll be able to place undead archers and axemen (the ‘tank’ of your army and they are brutes).  Every unit can be upgraded 2 times and the final upgrade grants a special ability.  The swordsmen gain a double damage attack (I like to think of this as a backstab ’cause I can), bowmen shoot fire arrows that do splash damage and the axemen appear to go into a rage that does er…something.  Unfortunately your army doesn’t change physically with each upgrade but you do at least see a ring around their feet with an indicator of their current level (very hard to see unless zoomed in).  Some of the above is foggy only because the game isn’t documented well, something that will hopefully be rectified in an update or at least on their website.  For example, it appears that you can heal your Dungeon King by selecting him but it’s not clear what’s doing what.  Anyway at the very end of the path is the aformentioned Dungeon King, a fearsome looking fellow with a grand, flowing red cape (apparently narcissism is alive and well among the undead aristocracy).  Should any invading heroes reach him and punch his clock, it’s of course game over and you lose everything (you die; she dies; everybody dies!).  The King can fight, just not very well and he’ll pretty quickly succumb if you don’t protect His Grande Excellence.  Speaking of invading heroes, there are 3 types of those as well: rogues, swordsmen and mages (roughly functional equivalents to your troops).  The rogues don’t seem to have any special ability at all and are quite easy fodder for your army.  The swordsmen are a definite thorn in the rear as they have a real mean streak and the mages are a downright nuisance as they cast ranged spells that do fire or poison damage and even freeze units in place.  In later levels, heroes appear in different colored garb so I take this to mean ‘higher level’ heroes and at any rate it’s certainly a nice change of pace as you progress.  Finally, if you can surive for 25 rounds (each round has several waves for a total of 190) you win!  Unfortunately, the victory celebration is very underwhelming (just the word ‘victory’ onscreen for a few seconds until you’re whisked back to the main menu) so hopefully that will be improved a in a future update.
 
Even though this is just 1.0 and updates are probably already in the think tank stage, it just wouldn’t be prudent without posting the old gripes and suggestions.
 
Hmm, dare I  even say it, iphoneappreviews has ’scooped’ the scene with the first review of Dungeon Defense?  Maybe not but if we are, yay us as I predict this app will shoot straight up the charts.
 
Gripes:
  • My main gripe is we really need to be able to upgrade a unit multiple times at once (sometimes you just have that kinda cash); instead the unit is deselected after every upgrade, forcing you to bring up the menu again
  • I was able to beat medium difficulty in a few tries (unusual for me) with no hero ever touching the Dungeon King;  hard mode took me about twice the tries with a little damage to DK so this game might actually be a little too easy for seasoned TD veterans (at least in the initial release so I’m sure this will be tweaked in updates)
Suggestions (plenty of these):
  • more maps and with multiple hero spawn points or even randomized
  • more hero types including more spells and spell fx
  • more undead types, for example undead mage and undead pyro who lobs incendiaries
  • global scoreboard (assuming a scoring system gets added first!)
  • stats when you select a hero or undead and on the upgrade menu (attack, defense etc)
  • ability to lay traps to slow (I dunno undead muck or something), hold (bear trap) and so on
  • graphical gold drops (that you’re army picks up) when you vanquish heroes so you have a tangible onscreen reward instead of just watching your gold increase
  • a more vicious Dungeon King, c’mon give him a growl and roar when he’s being attacked at least
  • even more ambience with say a dungeon sfx loop (water dripping, bat wings, a wail or 2), some cobwebs, more treasure strewn about, couple dead heroes piled up in a corner, etc
  • give the undead army a graphical tweak with each upgrade; later-level heroes too for that matter
  • where are the bosses?  this is sorely missing, give us a golem or titan/giant to beat up on
  • down the road: ability to play as heroes and some kinda Wifi multiplayer
Bottom line, I absolutely love this game and recommend anyone and everyone go buy it asap and start kicking hero butt with extreme prejudice.
Dungeon Defense is a perfect example of taking a working formula and rather than stamping out a carbon copy, layering in some true innovation and the ouput is 100% fun.
I’ll be waiting eagerly for word from this developer about planned updates as it can only get more awesome from here!
  
Version reviewed – 1.0
Reviewed on – iPhone 3G 8GB 2.2.1
Global scoreboard – no
iTunes music support – no
Lite version – no
 
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Update 3/26/09
Thanks to a cool thread over on the Touch Arcade forums (including posts from the developers themselves), I’ve got the lowdown on the couple question marks I had above about gameplay.
Here it is verbatim from the thread (and I was right about the backstab, yes!):
 
Just as Brian did I thought I would drop in and say hi.. I am the Designer and Engineer on Dungeon Defense and after reading a few posts about the Boss abilities I thought I should say something. We had planned on having the abilities reviewed in the help video but sadly it was left out.

So, you have two options one slows all the current Heros in the dungeon and the other speeds up all your minions. Both function for a limited time.

I hope that clears the abilities up.

While I’m at it..

Light Skeleton: Ability is back stab, if a heros back it turned to him its double damage received.

Heavy (Tank) Skeleton: Ability is a area effect taunt that tries to pull the Heros of your minions and pulls them on to him.

Archer Skeleton: Fire arrows with area of affect.

Thanks for all your feedback.

Jeremy Howa
Software Engineer
InMotion Software

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