Recently released from indie developer Noa, Elona Shooter is a turret defense game with a fun array of RPG-influenced features. It's loosely based on the developer's "roguelike" RPG, Elona, although the similarities don't amount to much more than graphic styles and themes. It wasn't necessarily meant to be a spin-off of his original RPG; Elona Shooter is his first foray into the Flash gaming community, and it's a lot more polished than most developers' freshman efforts. Drawing inspiration from popular "castle defense" games like BowMaster Prelude, Elona Shooter adds a serious helping of Asian-influenced, tactical RPG mechanics. You not only get to defend your castle from swarms of oncoming monsters with a satisfying array of weapons and skills, you won't have to go at it alone; an entire tactical RPG-styled party of helpers comes to your aid, eventually.
Similar to the kind of group dynamic you find in games like the Sonny series, you'll assemble a party of characters as your progress through the game. Team members each have their own unique skills, which dictate the types of weapons they can use and abilities that help your entire party. For example, one team member might only be able to use small weapons like pistols and bows, but his other "Party" skills help the entire team with important things like defense or increased money and loot. Other team members might serve as heavy gunners, able to use powerful weapons like machine guns and rocket launchers, without offering as many party-wide benefits.
You'll begin by choosing your first character out of four classes; Rogue, Hunter, Sheriff and Militia. As mentioned, each class has its own unique advantages, described in the selection screen. The Hunter is the most versatile class, so if you're in doubt, go with him. The Rogue and the Hunter also start with "The Little Girl" (your first free team member), while the other two classes don't. You'll also see options for playing in "Casual" or "Hardcore" mode, which are pretty self-explanatory. Beyond these two additional gameplay modes, the "Game MODS" button offers even more ways to tweak your game experience, depending on your preference; you can choose between options that offer better weapon accuracy for less experience, smaller groups of enemies at the start of the round, and a few more. Just the fact that you're able to refine so many options before you've even started the game exemplifies a lot of the detail that's to come. Elona Shooter features an awe-inspiring amount of in-game customization, upgrades and weapons. The items and weapons probably aren't procedurally-generated, but there are a ton of them, all with varying stats and "mods" that can be attached to them. Weapon mods allow you to customize your guns even further by adding things armor-piercing ammo, anti-air defense, auto-reloading and more.
Each level takes place as a familiar "wave" of oncoming enemies, starting with cannon fodder like sheep, or chickens that chuck eggs at your castle. Most "creeps" won't damage your castle until they close the gap to your castle wall, but a few of them can fire projectiles from a distance. Use the mouse to aim your cross-hair reticule and click to fire. Most weapons, like guns, require the reticule to be centered on your enemy to hit them, while bows and crossbows can be fired from any position on the creep's horizontal plane. While there's no real physics engine to speak of, Elona Shooter does recognize simple "anatomy shots," which means you'll cause "critical hits" if you hit creeps in the head. You can switch through weapons and items by using the  to  keys (notice your inventory at the bottom of your UI) and press [Space] to reload your weapon. Scoring seven critical hits in a row will send you into a "Rampage," increasing your weapon damage and the chance for money drops, temporarily. Every kill with a particular weapon will also net you experience points, allowing you to level up your effectiveness with those weapons.
The RPG elements of Elona Shooter are mostly employed between each level, while you're "in town." Here, you'll be able to perform a variety of functions like repairing your castle's wall, spending money to upgrade a slew of features and using the "AP" (Action Points) earned between each level. On the left side of your UI, you'll see the different areas of town you can visit, like the Inn, Barracks, Shop and more. In each of these areas you can spend either money or AP to upgrade your castle, buy and sell weapons and items, equip your team with new gear and choose which skills they should specialize in. Each feature is explained with in-game tooltips, or you can hit the "Help" button for a more in-depth tutorial. While your cash mainly buys you things like castle upgrades, new team members and weapons, your AP is used for more specific features, like having "Dinner" to boost your team's experience intake in the next level, "Praying" to add more castle defense or even "Robbing" town visitors for cash. You can also use AP for practical functions like changing the Blacksmith's current weapon stock, or bringing a new "Recruit" into town if you don't like the stats on the prospective team member currently offered. It's actually a pretty complex and intricate design for such a seemingly-simple defense shooter game, which is what most players will find attractive, especially if they're not usually drawn to shooters.
Analysis: Even on "Casual" mode, Elona Shooter can be tough; especially if you're unlucky with loot drops. Since the game doesn't throw gobs of money at you left and right, you have to rely on boss drops and end-of-level loot to provide you with at least half of the weapons you'll need for you and your team. If you're having an unlucky streak with the "random number generator," you might find yourself feeling like you're trying to shoot monsters with peashooters in later levels. A few of the aforementioned game settings can help to turn the odds in your favor, but a serious dry spell in higher-level weaponry and items could leave you with no other option than to restart your game. On the other hand, there are quite a few gameplay mechanics in place to help you along the way, like hiring a temporary mercenary to assist you in tougher levels. The "death penalty" isn't too severe, either; you can continue any time you lose, but if you do, some of the game's "Medals" won't be available to you anymore.
Speaking of "Medals", they're something that any achievement-junkie will love. There are more than 30 Medals to earn by accomplishing various feats, from your typical skill-based variety to just plain humorous, like clicking on the in-game Kongregate banner. Even better, the Medals offer gameplay bonuses, like stat boosts and defensive upgrades. It's a great feature for people who don't usually care about achievements, since it offers tangible, in-game incentives. All-in-all, Elona Shooter is one of the most ambitious defense-shooters I've seen in some time. The action is solid and fulfilling, while the tactical/RPG elements offer an additional layer of strategy you don't typically find in this genre.