Crush the Castle TD
If they're breaking out the trumpets, it must mean it's time to get our epic on, and that must mean it's time for Crush the Castle TD from Joey Betz and Toge Productions. After a long and successful series built around destroying castles in the most spectacular fashion possible (who doesn't love a trebuchet?), you might not expect to be called to put your skills to work saving the very sort of structures you once so gleefully pulverised, but that's just what's going on in this tower defense game. Once again you take up the mantle of Siege Master, but this time to defend your kingdom from invaders. Forget Sun Tzu and complicated military tactics; you know all it really takes to win the battle is a few finely tuned catapults and the will to use them. Come on, be perfectly honest; if mounting some siege weaponry to the roof of your car wouldn't get you thrown in Super Crazy Person Prison, you'd totally do it.
The actual gameplay is pretty simple; click on a tower's icon at the bottom of the screen, and then click anywhere on the map that doesn't display as red to place it. Your tower will take a second to be built, and then voila! Instant death machine. You can control the speed of the gameplay with the pause, play, and fast-forward buttons in the upper right of the screen. Enemies will appear from the banner at the edge of the screen and march towards your castle, and it's your job to stop them from getting there. Towers will attack anything in range, so proper tower placement is a must... especially since on levels where there isn't a road, enemies will walk wherever they darn well please. Killing an enemy nets you gold which you'll use to spend on upgrading your existing towers, or building news ones. There are also several special structures you can build that, while not able to attack the enemy themselves, will enable you to use certain upgrades to better facilitate your dude skewering. After each stage, you'll be awarded sweet, sweet experience points based on how well you do, and when you earn enough to gain a level, you can spend it on new upgrades to apply to your towers in game.
Analysis: Crush the Castle TD is actually a pretty good looking game, as tower defense titles go, marrying clean design with appealing sprites during the game and an appropriately bombastic fantasy soundtrack. Things do fall curiously silent during actual gameplay, however, which makes me wonder if being a Siege Master is a lot like being a golfer, and everyone just politely claps softly whenever you turn someone into a smear on the landscape so they don't break your concentration. Having been privy to an early build of the game while it was still in development, I'm actually fairly impressed by how far it's come and how much the gameplay has been developed. The group of towers at your disposal that unlock as you play are all useful, and often the right type of tower in the right location can mean the difference between victory and defeat.
It isn't until the second area, when roads become a luxury and enemies stop filing in like obedient gradeschoolers to your gauntlet of death, that the game really becomes interesting and challenging. The first few times you encounter a stage that's largely road-less, you'll probably have to do a little trial-and-error tower placement to figure out what works, but working out how to use the terrain and your towers to force enemies to go where you want them won't take long. It's just disappointing that the skill tree feels somewhat underdeveloped and tacked on... like you're just paying someone to have the privilege of paying someone else. It might have been nice to be able to unlock a bunch of new useful abilities to pick and choose from, rather than just a series of upgrades that, while helpful, don't really feel like they do much other than make what you've already got work better.
Crush the Castle TD doesn't necessarily break the mold, but it does provide a sturdy experience that fans of the genre and Joey Betz's work in general will really appreciate. It plays well, it feels balanced, and requires just enough strategy to get that shiny gold medal that tweakers will enjoy it, but not so much that casual fans will feel intimidated. While actually preventing a castle from being crushed might go against everything you hold dear, you'll still want to give this one a try and see how the other (non-crushed) side of society lives.
Special thanks to Gordon! for sending this one in.