We’ve seen somewhat of a resurgence in decent tower defense titles lately. But as Eli recently mentioned in our podcast, it can be tough to stand out in the crowded genre. Man at Arms TD ($1.99) by Inert Soap does a great job of making not by dramatically changing tower defense, but by incorporating an incredibly deep card system that works behind the scenes. Combine that with an impressive suite of multiplayer options and Man at Arms offerings easily outweigh some of its superficial flaws.
From a tower defense standpoint, Man at Arms doesn’t rock the boat too much. The game’s basic towers, maps, and even visuals are reminiscent of Kingdom Rush (Free). You can even earn and use supplemental allies and power-ups that are situated on timers. You also won’t find any free-form maps like the recently released TowerMadness 2 (Free) – this is straight up classic TD gameplay. It’s also done pretty well, with a smooth difficulty curve, various difficulty options and missions that never feel overtly lengthy (although I would have still liked a fast forward option). While Man at Arms’ gameplay is pretty standard, its deck building mechanic more than makes up for it in the innovation department.
Rather than unlocking new towers and upgrades via traditional map advancement, players earn cards which act as the unlocking mechanism. However, cards do more than simply unlock new cards; they can add temporary allies, unlock weapons on timers, increase tower stats, decrease enemy stats, and more. There are even rare cards that can be found which offer increased stats over the normal cards. Cards are only active when they’re in your deck, and each card takes ‘energy,’ forcing players to think about what strategy (and cards) they want to employ.
In addition to earning cards during battles, a shop allows you to purchase cards in blind packs and also allows you to purchase more energy, which lets you play more cards in your deck. Both require gems, which are earned in-game, via selling duplicate cards, and via IAP. Adding to the card strategy are several is a magic shop that lets you combine cards to (hopefully) create more powerful versions. With three separate ways of earning new cards, there’s plenty of opportunity to discover new combinations.
Simply put, this card system is one of the deepest and most satisfying features I’ve seen in a TD game. The possible deck combinations are countless, and there are so many variations of even the simplest tower configurations that players will want to spend a lot of time experimenting. The game’s energy system also means that you’ll never really be able to power through levels, as using the strongest (and coolest) towers will inevitably force you to sacrifice in other facets, forcing you to constantly adjust your gameplay. You can even earn cards that take the basic tower configurations and turn them on their head with hybrid combos. It’s simply a great system that I haven’t seen implemented this well in a TD game before (if ever!).
As if playing with cards wasn’t enough, Man at Arms has a pretty great multiplayer system. Players can create their own multiplayer maps (only on the iPad version) which can be shared with friends (in fact, the developers have created a simple website where you can download maps made from forum users). You can also create an ‘offensive’ deck with monster cards (which can be bought or earned in the same fashion as tower cards) and send your waves against an opponent and vice versa. My only complaint with the multiplayer facets is that Man at Arms does a poor job actually explaining how to participate, but once you figure out, it’s pretty fun.
In fact, poor documentation is probably the biggest complaint I have with Man at Arms. There isn’t much in terms of a manual and the tutorial screens that are there aren’t too helpful. Thankfully, there’ve been a lot of helpful explanations from both the developer and others in our forum, but I’d like to see this included in the game. A few other annoyances like the aforementioned lack of a speed button and the strange omission of pinch-to-zoom are things that I’m surprised to encounter.
Tower defense titles have been so refined, developers really have to think outside the box to improve on the formula. I really like what Man at Arms TD has done with their deck system, and it is the perfect example of a way to improve on an already established genre. This is a game worthy of recommendation both for diehard TD fans and those hoping for a rejuvenating shot in the arm for a tired genre.