GemCraft: Chasing Shadows
[6/18/2015: GemCraft: Chasing Shadows is now available to play on JayisGames.]
What are you doing with your free time? No, shut up! You're wrong, and a liar, because you're about to have every single scrap of your life taken over by the newest installment in Game in a Bottle's smash-hit tower defense GemCraft games, GemCraft: Chasing Shadows. (Also available on Steam if you would like to support the developer with a purchase!) What makes a GemCraft game so much more special than your garden variety tower defense? Glad you ask, person about to have their life enriched. While you use towers to defend against incoming waves of monsters as usual, the core of the game comes from the unique ability to create and fuse gems. Different colours have different powers, and even the size of the gem matters, but combining them is where it gets interesting. Take a poison gem and drop it into a tower with an electric gem, and suddenly you've got a defense that shots out bolts that paralyze and poison foes. Not only that, but if you place gems in traps on the ground, they have different effects than they would plopped in a tower. Pretty swanky powers, huh? Well, you're gonna need 'em, since the forces of darkness are nipping at your heels, and you'll need to think strategically to hold them off, learn new skills, and level up to gain access to bigger, badder jewels.
Initially, it might seem like the biggest change are the visuals, but there's a lot more going on under the hood despite first impressions. While the basic gameplay remains unchanged, apart from the fact that you can now manually choose what type of gem you want to create, and the additional speeds you can set levels to, there are a lot of tweaks and additions. Instead of battle modes to set difficulty and experience bonuses, for instance, you need to apply "traits" to fields which can only be found now as rare drops from monsters, and new skills to upgrade are unlocked in the same way. You can now find fragments with special bonuses that you can slot into a talisman, or upgrade using the game's new secondary currency, Shadow Orbs. Shadow Orbs are earned from battle, though along with a special item, they can optionally be bought for real cash via in-game microtransactions if you're impatient. In field battles, you'll also now have to contend with Wizard Towers, whose locks must be disabled before they destroy your base, and special treasures that can only be unlocked if you kill a specific number of enemies a certain way within their radius. Chasing Shadows is not a game you can simply charge through as fast as before, and for some players, the difference between grinding for levels and grinding for treasure is going to be a point of contention.
What hasn't changed is that Chasing Shadows is just as rife with challenging levels and strategy as its predecessors... there's just significantly more time spent trying to unlock it all. While having big buttons nagging you to buy things is perhaps a little obnoxious, gameplay doesn't feel like it's reliant on subtly forcing you to want to do so, and besides, the $4.99USD price tag for the Magician's Pounch, which grants bonus areas and skills, should be an acceptable price to pay for literally years of free entertainment for fans. The visual changes are gorgeous, especially in regards to the environments, but the monsters themselves tend to look a little small and muddy and indistinct compared with how clear they were displayed before. All of these changes and tweaks, big and small, means Chasing Shadow might have a bit of an uphill battle winning over diehard fans who preferred it simpler and with less unlocking, but it deserves the chance. Despite the emphasis on grinding and the nagging to spend money, Chasing Shadows is still an incredibly meaty, challenging game.
There's no denying that GemCraft: Chasing Shadows does a lot of things differently than its predecessors, but every bit of it has been done with enhancing the experience. If you're an old fan, it's going to take you a little while to relearn the ropes and develop strategies for levels that can be absolutely brutal even on the simplest difficulty. If you're a newcomer, you might be a little overwhelmed by the plethora of elements to play with and take into consideration, setting Chasing Shadows head and shoulders above virtually every other game in the genre. Whatever the case, GemCraft: Chasing Shadows is still an absolute titan of a game that will take a lot of time to beat, but is well worth the investment.