Touted on its website as one of "the world's best tower defense games," Wizard Defense is a new strategy game (still in beta) developed by Big Park, Inc. When it comes to presentation and graphics, I just might have to agree—I don't know if I've ever seen a Web-based tower defense game with such a rich back-story and polished UI. You play a young wizard who resides at the Espeon School of Wizard Defense, hand-picked by Edith—an "elder"—to defend the land from evil magic forces and monsters.
Your towers are called Elementums, each drawing its power from an element like wind, fire, earth and so on. Unlike many element-based TD games though, there are no gems or detailed resources here to play with. It's a pretty simple design, actually. You begin with just two Elementums; Leafros (a tree) and Voltoss (a storm cloud). Towers cost "Lumens" to build, which is basically the game's magical equivalent of money (you earn Lumens for each monster you destroy). Each of your towers can be given one "boost"; power, speed or range. While the towers cost different amounts of Lumens to build, the boosts always cost the same amount.
The boosts are pretty self-explanatory, especially for TD fans. However, since you can only give towers one boost each, they're pretty extreme (especially the range boost, which also improves critical hit chance). The speed boost doubles your attack speed and the power boost really increases damage a considerable amount. Lastly, boosting an Elementum also enables a secondary, inherent ability, such as temporarily freezing enemies or causing area-of-effect damage.
The controls are standard fare for this kind of game; just point and click with the mouse. Each stage of the game consists of two levels with around seven or eight waves of monsters. Your character is positioned at the end of the path, which would represent the "base" in most other TD games. You have 10 points of life, and lose them if enemies are able to get past your towers and attack you.
Your character doesn't just serve as decoration, though—you can also cast offensive spells that damage monsters and supplement your Elementums. You'll learn these spells—rather slowly—as you progress through levels by earning "medal points." At the end of each quest, you're awarded a bronze, silver or gold medal depending on your score. Each medal is worth a different number of medal points that unlock spells, like the "Magic Bolts" spell that lets you target monsters directly, or the "Fire Wall" that you can place down across the path to damage any monster that passes through it.
Analysis: Story-wise, you might liken Wizard Defense to the Harry Potter franchise at first glance. The whole "young-wizard-at-a-magic-boarding-school" is a bit similar, even if only in premise. It's the back-story though—along with the highly-polished website and fleshed-out characters—that actually confused me at first, wondering if this was some new intellectual property like a novel or cartoon that was licensed into a Flash game to promote it. Typically, you just don't see this kind of production value in independent Flash games (especially in the tower defense genre, which is still primarily a grassroots movement). It's got its own Web site, complete with professionally-drawn art with lots of written story behind it, and even a forum section. More importantly, this production value is evident in-game as well, with great animation and sound, gorgeous backgrounds and an overall gloss that's usually only found in downloaded games.
That being said, the first question is whether or not the gameplay lives up to the standard of its packaging. The answer? Almost. First of all, the game is labeled as still in beta. While there's not many bugs that hinder gameplay aside from the occasional UI overlay hiccup, it might suggest that the developers are still tweaking things behind-the-scenes, like enemy hit points or other balance mechanics.
Even though there are three levels of difficulty available, some tower defense veterans might find Wizard Defense a bit on the easy side. That's not to say it's a cakewalk; the medium and hard modes offer fewer resources and tougher enemies, and will pose a challenge to most players. The overall mechanics are a bit simple for this genre though, suggesting that it was designed to be accessible even for a pre-teen audience.
However, that doesn't stop Wizard Defense from being one of the most impressive TD games I've ever seen. Aside from the ending coming a little too quickly (and for some, requiring registration to play past the first quest), there's not too much to complain about. Multiple path routes and a variety of tower and spell abilities offer just as much strategic fun as any other defense game. Rooted by its rich story and dazzling presentation, it's something that every casual gamer should check out.
Thanks for the suggestion, Ed!