When it comes to tower defense, I personally think it can be a tough task for developers to balance new concepts with established elements that give a TD game that familiar, comfortable feeling. Armor Games' Demons vs. Fairyland [$0.99 / $2.99 (HD)] does a good job with that balance. While its small unique features probably don’t do much in terms of innovation, I think it does enough overall to be included in any TD fan’s game library.
Demons vs Fairyland’s story starts off with a novel plot twist. You play the role of a horde of demons that have kidnapped the children of Fairyland and are attempting to whisk them away to your homeland. Obviously, the citizens of Fairyland are going to do all they can to get the kids back, which mainly involves launching hordes of heroes against you to try and rescue the kids. Instead of losing ‘lives’ the fairy heroes must capture the kids and take them all the way back to the beginning of the level. If all the kids are returned, the game ends. Most games don’t have you playing the role of the villain, but Demons’ quirky humor makes the twist a fun facet.
Visually, Demons vs Fairyland shares a lot of its art style with the likes of Kingdom Rush. The over world map and menus have a cartoony style about them that are highly reminiscent of that classic series. However, where Demons deviates is with its character models, which all are based on pixel art. I don’t know the reasons for having pixel character models on top of illustrated maps, but it’s kind of a weird contrast. It also makes for somewhat of a tough time differentiating the plethora of enemies when they are congregated in massive waves. I don’t think it necessarily detracts from the overall experience, but I just find it a bit odd.
Meanwhile, the TD gameplay in Demons is based on some pretty classic premises with a few twists to make it a little interesting. Yes, the enemy paths are predetermined, with later levels gradually introducing multiple routes and the like. In addition, the three base towers are pretty standard (Ground-based foot soldier, high attack-rate archers, and group-targeting mages) with their advanced unit upgrades not offering anything particularly new. A magic system lets you cast several spells to supplement your towers that run on both cool downs and an overall mana regeneration system. An experience system allows you to upgrade a variety of aspects of your towers, stats, and magic powers. If you’re new to the genre or an established player, Demons’ basics will be pretty familiar.
Where it differs a bit is with the addition of building facilities as well as a variety of buildings that boost specific towers. Before you can even place a tower, you have to place its building facility. For example, skeletal soldiers require the graveyard, which will allow you to build soldier towers in the immediate areas surrounding the graveyard (you can later upgrade the area of effect of the graveyard). Facilities also require four units of space, meaning that you can’t place them just anywhere. It also means that you need to watch out that you leave enough space in an area for the facility and all the towers that you want to build (as well as the upgrade buildings).
Later levels make tower real estate a premium, meaning that you’ll need to pay careful attention as to where you want to plan your tower production — especially since building multiple facilities of the same type quickly become cost prohibitive. Meanwhile, building boosters don’t require a lot of strategy to place, but are essential to giving your towers a proper edge against the enemy and need to be taken into consideration when placing your towers. All this adds a nice new strategic element tower placement and is a cool change from established TD gameplay principles. Is it enough to dramatically transform Demons’ gameplay? Not really, but it still offers a novel twist.
Overall, you’re not going to find anything particularly new or innovative with Demons, but to be honest that isn’t necessarily a bad thing with tower defense. With an interesting premise, a refined take on established TD practices as well as a few small additions that add a deeper experience, I really enjoyed what Demons vs Fairyland has to offer. If you’re still not convinced, a simplified version of the game can be checked out online for free. Otherwise, it’s a good TD game worth experiencing.