Have you ever fancied playing a weird sort of tennis using fireballs? If the answer is yes then step right up. However I admit that that's a bit misleading, as it's not a fantasy sports sim like Bloodbowl, no it's a strategic battle that involves you controlling troops and defending your tower whilst blowing seven shades of you-know-what out of your opponent's towers.
The story (available in campaign mode) is one of alliances forged and broken, loyalty and betrayal and striving to overthrow your enemies scattered throughout the empire. Again this is no RPG game either, although you do assume command of one of four generals, each with their own quirky personalities (although these are not really explored).
So there are battles indeed but how are they conducted? Well let's cover that in a little more detail.
You are hunkered down behind the walls of a tower, in one corner or one edge of a courtyard like structure with the enemy towers facing you. In front of your tower is a moveable shield that protects your walls, but there's a little more to it than that.
The shields can also catch incoming missiles, supplied by a friendly passing Dragon, and can be launched after being powered up for extra damage at your enemies tower walls. They also send fireballs back more or less where they came from, hence the tennis reference at the start.
However there is a downside to charging up the fireball, as you power up the missile, it weakens your towers walls, so bear this in mind, and use it wisely.
This is just one of the tactical elements to the forthcoming conflict. You also have troops called Snoots to command. They are lead by a standard bearer, who is a little vulnerable to say the least, hence the other Snoots who can protect him and will follow him loyally through thick and thin.
These Snoots have several functions. They can repair your walls, attack enemy walls and take command of power nodes that are set into the ground between the towers (more on these in a moment). Snoots are to be frank, expendable so don't be alarmed if they get blasted by fireballs that are crossing the battlefield. This sounds harsh but as you have an unlimited supply of Snoots, it's no big deal. No really it isn't!
There are two ways of controlling the Snoots. You can enter commands through the use of the D pad. Pressing left will send them on a repair mission, right sends them to attack. Pressing down sends them on a mission to control the aforementioned power nodes that bestow benefits and inflict penalties to your enemies.
The alternative method, and this is a little harder to manage, is using the right control stick. This movement is useful however, because tokens or coins appear on the field. These represent you capturing your enemies ill gotten gains, but they can also pick up other tokens that are more than useful.
One token summons a Black Knight that can be sent to attack a target. He will hammer at castle walls, trampling any unfortunate enemy Snoots that get in his way. He can be deterred though by a well aimed fireball. This annoys him, so he will promptly about turn and stomp on the one that fired the fireball at his back. Be aware though, that if YOU are the one that shoots him, even if you summoned him, he will take the attack personally and turn against you and start hammering your own tower walls!
On the flip side, when the Black Knight appears, a token will spawn onto the battlefield and a mad scramble begins by anyone not controlling the Black Knight to gain it. Why? Because this token summons his counterpart, the White Knight. He will attack the Black Knight and keep him busy but whilst he is on the battlefield and under your control, your Snoots are invulnerable to the Black Knight's ferocity, as well as any stray or aimed fireballs for a few precious moments. So get that token fast! You cannot control both knights though.
To take control of the power nodes send your standard bearer to take command of the one nearest too him with a downward press of the D-Pad or steer him with the right stick, a loyal Snoot or two will stand on the spot until the gauge fills up. Once full, the node changes colour and the Snoot sacrifices itself, this sacrifice will finish powering up of the node. Nodes come in various flavours:
Iron Walls: Turns bricks into metal plates. They can take more incoming damage and of course, they can resist the damage inflicted if you wish to charge a captured fireball.
Reverse Shields: Flips the controls for one enemy's shield movement. So to move it right, you have to move the left stick too the left and vice versa. This affects the tower directly opposite you, or if the others have fallen the last remaining enemy.
Slow Shields: Does what it says on the tin, you can move them where you want but they are slowed down.
Fireball Convert: Your tower is marked by a flag and shield of a certain colour. This turns ALL the fireballs into the matching colour. Any that hit you will not damage your walls and can be caught and charged with impunity. Useful indeed!
That sums up the gameplay in a nutshell. Oh I'll quickly say that you can change the view of the battleground to an overhead view by pressing the right shoulder button. This view is for me, preferable to the view that you normally get, which is from behind and slightly above your own tower.
So what modes do you have?
Practice mode plays at a slower pace than campaign and multiplayer. You can select to take one opponent on face to face, or three opponents. You can select the maximum number of fireballs delivered to the battlefield by the dragon, who in all modes, regularly sends fireballs to be used by all combatants. This is nice and slow, and plays at the same speed as the tutorial. Use this to get used too the game first!
Campaign mode tells the story of the events as they unfold. Each episode is divided into 'chapters' and each scenario gives you different situations, i.e. number of opponents, etc. but these chapters do not adversely affect proceedings.
Online Multiplayer: OK this is self explanatory, you will face human controlled opponents, either one on one or up to four players. The speed should be faster as your human players will know what they are doing, are familiar with the rules etc etc. Now I say SHOULD but...well we'll cover that in the pro's and cons section.
Graphics: Colourful and easy on the eye. Don't expect all to be very highly detailed, this is a modified arcade tower defense game after all. Though fireballs glow very nicely, and smoke and explosions are rendered well enough for this type of game.
Physics: These are not really a factor. Snoots that are hit will just fall apart, and explosions from impacting fireballs will create stone chips that fly through the air and generate smoke, but don't expect the bang and crash of your Modern Warfare games here.
Music: Good sound track although not outstanding. Adequate for the game though and you will be too busy defending your tower and dealing damage to your enemies to take any real notice of it.
Voice acting: Not a factor. It comes in play during the tutorial section, as you are guided by a namelss Snoot. I suppose you can say it's well 'acted', and the humour of the dialogue will raise a smile.
Controls are responsive and easy to use but that does not mean it's all plain sailing. You'll see what I mean when I get to the next section.
Pros: It's fun and will provide a decent distraction from the normal influx of driving games, shooters etc etc that are out there at the moment. It will challenge you, and providing you don't get too frustrated, will have you trying 'just one more time' to beat your foes (Especially in multiplayer)
You will find your brains surprisingly well taxed as you will have to change your tactics on the fly. It's different enough from other tower defense games to make you notice. It's certainly a lot different from the last type of this game I reviewed (Dungeon Defenders)
As I said, it makes a change from the usual gaming carnage that is on offer.
Cons: Frustration can set in, especially as the A.I. is as sharp as a tack. Yes you can rebound a fireball and that may well hit the enemy walls, but the annoyance comes when you charge up that fireball and eight times out of ten, your opponent will get his shield in the way to block the shot or trap it, charge it and send it back at you or at another enemy. Also sometimes enemy Snoots seem to be a little quicker than yours, so getting coins, and getting the Black or White Knights can be problematic.
Online play is another niggling issue. I'd have loved to have been able to comment more on this, but the lobby was empty. I would create a lobby but nobody would jump in to join a hosted game so I was just sat here twiddling my thumbs. That is a real shame. Online could provide a competitive and fun game mode but only if people are willing to play.
I can see the appeal of this game being damaged by lack of online players, so guys, get the demo at least and TRY online. You'll have a happy reviewer if you do.
The play can be frantic and you may have trouble juggling everything, and there are times when you think "yes I have won!" only to see your tower disintegrate and your hopes of victory are wiped out. Oh well, deep breath and try again I suppose!
To sum up, it's not perfect but it's not dreadful either. Expect a challenge for sure, maybe you'll curse at the A.I. responsiveness, but on the whole this is an enjoyable game. It's different enough to get noticed.
At least try the demo. Right then, time to get back onto the battlefield, there are some walls that need knocking down...