There are a few things I look for in a tower defense game. A good variety of towers, a mix of unit types to keep things fresh and level layouts that force me to be creative are all necessities, but those all come standard. It's the little spark of something extra that makes a title standout in this otherwise rigid genre.

Elf Defense [$2.99 / Lite] has so many extras that it's hard to know where to start. Ridiculously adorable style? Check. Special units you can pull out as trump cards? Sure thing. Items you can useto go after the creeps directly? Uh-huh. There's even an overarching upgrade system so you can control how powerful and effective your towers are. Just one catch—most of these things are tied into a premium currency system. Drat. They were so close, too.

You can ostensibly manage everything with only the holy leaves you earn while you play. You get some for the creeps you kill and some for each level you complete. At first it's only enough to keep you limping along with a few items here and there, maybe a mercenary or two down the road. Later you'll earn leaves at a faster clip. It just never feels fast enough to truly take advantage of all the cool things you could get your hands on if you just shelled out money for more.

Still, there's quite a lot to enjoy with just the initial purchase. Elf Defense has thirty levels, with two tiers of difficulty, followed by a slew of similar "crazy" levels for veteran players. The levels are set across three themes—forest, desert and arctic—with around 100 different enemies. That's not to say there's a ton of variety, though. The level layouts vary but stick within close thematic parameters, and the enemies only come in a few broad categories: ground, air, and bosses, with fast versions of each.

All the extras keep Elf Defense's formula from stalling out early. The game is actually pretty hard, so it makes a lot of sense to save up to unlock a mercenary like Coldy Bear, with his triggered ability to slow down all the enemies on screen, or the poison spewing Peaker. Similarly, using one of your few shovels to clear the right blocked square might mean the difference between surviving a level or failing. With strict cooldowns on pretty much everything, unlimited resources can't offer that much of an advantage.

The towers are all pretty great too, even beyond the fact that they start out as little plants and eventually grow into Elven Valkyries. All the classic tower archetypes are covered, and they all feel worthy of their niches. I'm particularly fond of the electrical tower, which shoots out huge bolts of lightning that arc between units. Upgrade it in-game and it gets crazy powerful while targetting more units at once. Spend leaves to research it between levels and its base power and range will increase further. This is true for all the towers, but none are quite as cool as a pink elf that shoots electricity from her head.

Leveling and shopping give players a broad selection of ways to spend leaves, but even without them you can customize the gameplay experience to taste. If the game moves too slow, run it at double speed. Fast waves will flit by so quickly they'll skip frames. If even normal speed is too fast to keep on top of placement and upgrades, pause the game—you'll still be in control. This might occasionally make the game too simple, but usually it's a lifesaver. Even on Easy, you'll need to plan your strategies carefully—especially if you want to earn the highest leaf rewards.

There is one other way to collect leaves: earn achievements. Each has a reward ranging from 100 to 1500 leaves, enough to keep you in shovels or bombs for quite some time. Sadly these aren't tied to Game Center, which only tracks a single leaderboard for total score.

I'd recommend Elf Defense on looks alone (those square-headed elves have won my heart), but there's a good game beneath the glitz as well. It's just a bit frustrating that its approach to in-game currency is so mercenary, because the game would be more fun with more freedom. Still, if you're looking for a hefty tower defense title and you've got an appetite for darling designs, you ought to check this out. If you do, stop by and share your thoughts in our discussion thread.

TouchArcade Rating

  • Cat Astrophy

    3 stars, please. Pushy IAP should take a bigger hit on the score.

    •!/NissaCam Nissa Campbell

      At this point, that'd mean we'd have to knock a full point off pretty much every second release. And I don't think review scores ought to be used to punish developers for engaging in extremely common industry practices some folks don't like.

      • Cat Astrophy

        You mean a lot of folks don't like. How about not giving attention to games that use IAP this brutally? If you (the game developer) don't do it right then you either A) get blasted for it, or B) don't even get the free press of a review on a popular site. You have PLENTY of games to talk about that don't use this unpopular (specifically talking *overbearing* IAP) practice.

        Why don't you just review all the third-party knock-off apps since that's an extremely common industry practice that "some" folks don't like? At least practice what you preach.

        You'll (the website you represent) give games that have one gamebreaking feature (horrible controls of a port) a lower score than one with another gamebreaking feature (a 100-ft IAP wall).

      •!/NissaCam Nissa Campbell

        I don't find the IAP in this game nearly as objectionable or *overbearing* as you seem to. Luckily reviews are subjective, so if you're bothered by the IAP model you can feel entirely free to continue to not purchase the game. That's why we explain which IAP models are used by the games we cover - so that people who make their purchasing decisions by considering the content of our reviews (and not just the star rating, which doesn't tell the whole story) can make an informed decision.

      • Cat Astrophy

        "It's just a bit frustrating that its approach to in-game currency is so mercenary"

        Your words or not?

      •!/NissaCam Nissa Campbell

        Indeed they are. And you'll note my use of the phrase "a bit." 

        I always give you the benefit of the doubt when you respond aggressively to my reviews, but you're *always* itching for a fight, so I think I'll disengage myself from this conversation before that happens. If you have an issue with the games we cover (edit: or the consistency of the review scores assigned by the dozen or so people who write for this site, in response to the edit of your earlier comment), perhaps you should consider taking it up with the management. That's not my department.

      • Cat Astrophy

        It's not fair to say I'm "itching for a fight" especially since I can only speak for my intentions. I'm just looking for more consistency in your reviews. You'll notice if you look at my post history that I'm not really talking to any other reviewer negatively outside of a few discussions with Eli.

      • Derek Chin

        I honestly don't recall seeing you post anything productive here. All that I expect whenever I see your name is some gripe, a snarky comment or a bash on something. I think Nissa has done a fine job here. There is a large market for IAP and your personal feelings against IAP should not affect her reviews. Especially on games you would never play!

  •!/NissaCam Nissa Campbell

    Just in case anyone else is confused by my wording: there is no paywall in this game. You can absolutely play every last bit of it without using the IAP. It's just a lil more fun when you can use items more freely and get your hands on mercenaries faster. Apologies if I left that unclear in my review.

  • rekzkarz

    I'll say that watching the video was enough for me not to want to play at all.  The 'amazingly cute' style was actually annoying and I don't like the short looped animation cycles which make the creatures look like they're standing there doing a small dance.
    I woudn't say I'd pay *not* to play this game, but I can guarantee I won't be paying a dime to play this thing.
    I don't really like TD games in principle, but I did get sucked into a few previously.  I paid $1 or $2 and had fun.  One game did add in a 'store' where you could buy a bunch of stuff & which would basically ruin all aspects of game balance, so I skipped that.

  • Gulshan L. Gattani

    The graphics, upgrading and leaves gathering leaves you thinking of the game even after you've put your device down 🙂 its a solid grab for .99$ w00ts!

Elf Defense Eng Reviewed by Nissa Campbell on . Rating: 4