When we first heard that there was a tower defense game in the works based on not only the best entry in the original Star Wars trilogy, but also a movie that is so good that it ranks in at #10 in the IMDB Top 250, it was hard to not get excited. After all, the entire battle on the ice planet Hoth seemed to make quite possibly the perfect scenario for a tower defense game, especially when you throw in heaps of Star Wars fan service in to the mix. After spending the day playing Star Wars: Battle for Hoth [$2.99], I'm happy to report that Battle for Hoth is a competent tower defender, with quite a few good ideas. Unfortunately, it's also lacking in some areas, which may or may not concern you depending on your level of obsession with the Star Wars universe.
First of all, from a Star Wars nerd perspective, it's hard to imagine a better iPhone game. Carving out trenches in the snowbanks of Hoth to position units and drive all the completely recognizable Imperial troops through your maze of defenses is really awesome, especially as you progress enough through the game to where you're battling AT-AT's and have access to the full arsenal of defenses. Brief clips of Empire Strikes Back play between levels, and as mentioned before, the entire scenario laid out in the movie is a great premise for a tower defense game.
Battle for Hoth works like other tower defense games, which by now I'd think everyone who reads this site with any regularity would at least be vaguely familiar with. It improves upon this gameplay formula in a number of ways, the first being trenches. Instead of needing to funnel the incoming enemy troops around by building rows of towers, you can dig trenches in the snow, which barely cost you any of your command points, the resource used in game to buy more defenses. When you place units inside of these trenches, they get a defensive bonus, which is important as the incoming Imperial forces won't just be blindly walking past, they will also be firing at you-- Often destroying your defenses in the process.
The way the command points are handled is pretty cool too. Instead of the way most tower defense games work where you're just awarded whatever resource you use to buy defenses when enemies die, you have to actively tap on the little command point icon which is dropped by the last enemy in the wave. This forces you to pay attention, and continually pan around the battlefield to not miss command points, which could have vital consequences if you find yourself short to buy additional or upgrade your existing units. I found myself feeling like I was "playing" the game much more than your typical tower defense game, as odd as that is to say, because I couldn't just upgrade my towers and put my phone down while the next few waves of guys get slaughtered before I have to do anything.
My absolute favorite feature of Star Wars: Battle for Hoth is the level of control that you have over each of your units. Instead of your typical tower defender where your defenses blindly fire on the first unit, with some games allowing you to target a specific unit, Battle for Hoth allows you to tweak the targeting of all of your defenses. For instance, you can toggle whether they attack the weakest or strongest unit first, whether they should prioritize ground or air units, and this can be done both globally as well as on a per-unit basis. If you like this level of micromanagement, you will have a load of fun with Battle for Hoth.
Later in the game as you get access to more and more advanced defenses, you will need to build and protect power generators to supply power to stronger weapons, and there's even a second game mode. In fortress mode, you start each map with a fixed amount of command points, and you must plan ahead and use those command points wisely to be able to survive the level. It's an interesting spin on things, as it really forces you to analyze what the best bang for your proverbial buck is and whether or not you should build more units, focus on upgrades, or a mixture of the two.
Unfortunately, with all this good comes some bad as well. The interface of Battle for Hoth feels a little clunky. To place units, you drag them from the toolbars which line the top and right side of the screen. Units are placed under your finger tip, which really makes things feel extremely inaccurate as I'd much prefer they were offset above my finger instead of relying on the weird crosshair system they have currently implemented which just draws a horizontal and vertical line intersecting with your finger to line things up. In a tower defense game where you need to lay out defenses to route enemy troops around, you need to be able to position them exactly where you need them to go. I felt like I was accidentally placing things in the wrong spot far too often, forcing me to sell them at a loss and try again.
Overall the graphics of the game just seem lackluster. The animations of the various Rebel and Imperial units seem very basic, and while they certainly get the job done, Battle for Hoth barely compares to games like Fieldrunners in the art department. The sound effects and music get a little repetitive too, as you will need to get very used to hearing the same old blaster sound over and over. Also, I would have loved to have the original John Williams soundtrack (or at least parts of it) in game instead of the current background music which seems a little out of place.
Still, for three bucks, Star Wars: Battle for Hoth is one of the cheapest things to sport a Star Wars license that I can think of. It's a competent tower defense game, and I really don't think the things I perceive as negatives to the game would be as much of an issue if the entire genre wasn't so incredibly mature on the App Store. There are some absolutely fantastic tower defense games out there with highly refined controls, expertly balanced difficulty, tons of content that has been added through (in some cases) years of updates which make the rough edges on newcomers like Battle for Hoth stick out like a sore thumb.
At the end of the day, while there are better tower defense games on the App Store, this is the only one where you can battle waves of AT-AT's, which is likely worth the price of admission alone for most.
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