The Next Floor
Tower defense is another antediluvian of the casual gameplay genres. It's surprisingly hard to bring something other than new window dressing to such a simple concept, since overdoing it leads to Frankenstein's monster; uncooperative, clumsy, trapped inside flaming windmills. The Next Floor, from John Cooney (Rabbit Wants Cake, I Love Traffic), neatly avoids the lurching horror by keeping the concept nice and simple and the action fast and furious.
The Next Floor puts you in the shadowy shoes of.... someone who is in an elevator... somewhere, and desperately defending it against... something that wants to... do... stuff to it? Look, if you want something deep and meaningful, you're in the wrong bloodstained, bullet-ridden corridor. The rest of us are content enough with knowing that the elevators are ours and something else wants them.
Actually, here you're defending the elevator shaft, since the various elevators you can purchase all have their own hit points. When enemies reach you, they'll begin attacking whatever is in front of them. If it's an elevator, and the hit points reach zero, the elevator will fall. Make sure you're not in one when this happens! If it's the elevator shaft, the mammoth life bar at the top of the screen will slowly deplete until nothing remains and you lose the game, forcing a restart.
The interesting mechanic here is the ability to purchase new elevators and switch between them by clicking on one and dragging it over another so they swap position. Since you can arm your elevators however you like with various upgrades, you can fill one with rocket launchers, the other with machine guns, and swap them around as needed. You can also join the fray yourself, by moving left or right with the [A] and [D] keys, and holding down the left mouse button to fire.
Analysis: The game only has one difficulty setting, which isn't actually challenging until late in the game. Even if you're swarmed during a level and barely manage to squeak out a victory with a fraction of health left, the damage to all elevators and the elevator shaft itself is completely repaired between levels. Unfortunately, if you do lose, you have to start the entire game over again.
At only fifteen levels, The Next Floor is fairly short, but it's this tight little package that makes the whole thing such breezy fun to play. Once the cash starts rolling in, you'll find you have more than enough to customize your weaponry to take on even the increasingly dense swarms. The action starts to get particularly heavy in the last half-dozen levels, where multiple types of creeps will appear on the same floor. Large enemies can shield smaller ones from harm, which can make things more than a little hairy when they've all swarmed up to your feet at once.
Funnily enough, the one thing I really felt the game missed out on was using actual elevator music in a game that takes place within elevators. I was really hoping for some bouncy little muzak rendition of "The Girl From Ipanema" played on a synthesizer to make the game feel more cheeky than gritty. As it stands, The Next Floor is a fast-paced, exuberant little title that will easy eat up a coffee break or two without breaking a sweat.