What in tarnation is this thing?! Some sort of copper-headed rattle-water moccasin? Actually, Tarnation is a clever real-time strategy game by Brad Merritt that bears some resemblance to a tower defense title. You control a garden with rows of seeds ready to sprout into flowers that will dash off and dispatch incoming bugs. The bugs are made of Tar, you see, and if they reach the stream in front of your flower bed, they start to gunk up the water. Merely defeating all the bugs is enough to pass, but real excellence comes by releasing only as many flowers as you need. Its like a primer on sustainable gardening meets tower defense, with graphics reminiscent of Yoshi's Island.
There are three colors of bugs that can only be defeated by like-colored flower missiles. To turn seedlings into flowers, drag boxes across your garden. Depending on which corner you start and which direction you drag, a different color flower is made. For example, dragging from the top left to the bottom right unleashes red flowers, while top right to bottom left makes blue. Sprouts continually grow from left to right, so make sure you use seeds closest to the stream before they're pushed over the edge.
After the flowers are turned loose they attack like-colored bugs with a series of quick fly-bys. As long as there are bugs on the screen, the flowers keep attacking (though they eventually vanish), but when the bugs are gone the flowers disappear, too. The real strategy of this game comes from conserving your seeds as best you can while still preventing bugs from reaching the water. After all, there's not much of a garden to save if you don't have any seedlings!
Analysis: The angle of the flowers you create in relation to the bugs they attack determines how quickly the enemy is dispatched, which adds a nice element of spatial strategy to the mix. Also, "Close Call" kills made near the stream net big bonus points, though it's usually best not to plan for the last-ditch effort. Then there's the art of timing your releases so they finish the Tars just before another same-colored Tar enters the screen. Very rarely does a game achieve this level of depth and flexibility with a one button interface.
The only flaw in Tarnation that I could see is that your Skill Rating isn't immediately presented when you complete the level. When you try to click through the secondary statistics to see that prime value, it skips right to the next level. Other than that, this game is perfect, both in doing what it sets out to do with the poise of an Olympic gymnast, and for setting out to do something innovative.
We don't do ratings here, but if we did I'd give Tarnation five stars.