Fishlabs’ latest addition to the App Store is a modern take on the arcade classic, Missile Command. While we’ve seen a few games adopt this formula, none have looked as darn pretty as Earth Defender [99¢]. Earth Defender’s interpretation of Missile Command on the iOS devices dispenses with the missiles launching from Earth, and opts for a more responsive explosion-on-touch mechanic. The swarms of multi-colored aliens descending on our fair planet won’t know what hits them when a well placed bomb explodes in their faces. Of course, where would Missile Command be without chaining; Earth Defender ensuring that explosions from one alien will in-turn kill others nearby, allowing for well placed screen clearing multipliers.
Earth Defender is host to a variety of weapons and a horde of aliens to use them on. Weapons include a few very different effects that will need to be used differently to adapt to the circumstances. The black hole bomb for instance, will suck up the smaller critters, but are usually limited in number. The electrical bomb will zap any enemies near the blast radius and is used almost as a mine to pre-empt attacks. Weapons are gradually updated in size and power too, level-to-level, to accommodate for the greater difficulty.
Enemies generally take the form of two types– those that can be killed by bombs, and those that can’t. For the latter, you need to hold your finger over the enemy to charge an electrical bolt from Earth, slowly whittling them down. There are 14 different enemy types in the game; with some of the more interesting ones cloaking at random, or combining to launch a suicide attack against your shields.
To defend against the onslaught, the Earth has 3 shields barriers divided into multiple segments. Enemies target these segments, either with their own bombs, or by very damaging kamikaze runs. If they happen to pierce through any part of the 3-layered shield, an invasion warning begins, indicating the descent of the alien mothership. It’s up to you to kill enough enemies to then generate a shield power-up in time, or risk losing the Earth entirely. Power-up drops are fortunately frequent and forgiving, so this really only becomes an issue when you are seriously in trouble.
For all that the Earth Defender description touts its boss fights, we found this to be the weakest area of the game. Essentially, one snake-like boss attacks multiple times (until the final boss), narrowly escaping you each time until you finally dispense with him. We would have liked to see different bosses with different attack patterns that require a more measured use of the various bombs at your disposal. This is a criticism that may be leveled at the game as a whole too, though– as bombs are not selectable and power-ups simply replace the bomb in your possession– allowing for no real strategic use of weapons.
Earth Defender looks and sounds fantastic, and plays just as frantically as Missile Command of old. You will quickly become overwhelmed by the sheer number of enemies launching at your shields, and the difficulty of the last few levels is considerable. Unfortunately, Earth Defender doesn’t escape the feeling that after the first few levels you’ve seen it all; with the basic gameplay simply increasing in pace. Instead, we would have loved to see levels or bosses that require you to fully explore your arsenal. Still, Earth Defender is a true-to-its-roots Missile Command inspired game; and with 5-finger multi-touch and OpenFeint, should really appeal to fans of the genre.