Monday, January 12, 2009

Whiteboard Tower Defense

I think I've been spoiled by the fact that my first encounter with Flash tower defense games was Desktop Tower Defense (review here), since it seems that every other TD game I play doesn't quite match up to DTD. Whiteboard Tower Defense is no exception -- while it does contain the one DTD feature that I think is the most innovative and interesting, the ability to build your own maze, there's still plenty of places where you can see that the design just doesn't quite match up to DTD.

Anyway, if you've played DTD, Whiteboard TD will seem quite familiar. Various critters enter the battlefield, and your job is to prevent them from reaching the exit. By placing turrets on the field, you can force the critters to traverse a maze, which makes their escape that much more difficult. Towers come in a variety of types, and can be upgraded to make them even more powerful, and boss critters come along once every so often; these have much higher hit points but a correspondingly higher reward. If a certain number of critters (depending on the difficulty level) successfully makes it to the exit, then you lose.

So, why does Whiteboard TD not quite live up to the (admittedly high) standards of DTD? Well, the first is juggling. In any tower defense game where you create your own path, juggling is a potentially hugely unbalancing strategy. (For those of you not familiar with the term -- "juggling" means, when the critters are about to reach your maze exit, you open up an exit earlier in your maze, and then close off the exit they're about to reach, forcing the critters to backtrack, and repeating as necessary.) DTD does a good job of recognizing this problem -- selling towers takes longer the more you sell, and since the waves come in continuously, you can't juggle indefinitely -- eventually your maze will fill up and you won't be able to open an exit anywhere without letting a bunch of critters out. In Whiteboard TD, however, there's no anti-juggling measures, so beating the game with juggling is embarassingly easy. I tried to keep my juggling to a minimum, just to keep the game interesting, but it's a serious flaw.

There are a bunch of other, more minor issues. There's only one entrance and exit, which makes maze construction a simpler affair than in DTD. Critters only come in three types (fast but weak, normal, and slow but strong), and you don't need to alter your strategy very much to deal with the different types. One clever feature of Whiteboard TD is that you can place electric floors, which go in the gaps between towers; this means that you're faced with a decision of whether to pack the towers in as tightly as possible, or leave room for some electric floors to slow down the enemies. This is a nice touch. There's also, however, not very much decision in which tower to pick; the increase in the price of the towers, as well as the increase in the rewards, is so rapid that at any given time, you really only have one viable choice for what kind of tower to buy. This eliminates a lot of strategic possibilities.

The presentation is kind of average -- the whiteboard motif is nicely executed, but it's been done before. The sounds fit the game well, although the whiteboard squeaking gets pretty annoying (I know, that's the point); the critters also do an adorable job of taunting you. There's no background music, just the soothing sound of your turrets firing at the enemy. The game also doesn't offer anywhere near the variety of challenges that DTD does -- there's just easy, medium, and hard difficulties, and they're all basically the same.

Overall, Whiteboard TD is not a terrible game; it was an enjoyable experience getting the badge. But it's simply overshadowed by Desktop Tower Defense in its genre; there's nothing that it really does better than DTD, and several things it does worse, so in the end I don't really see any reason to keep playing this when DTD is available.

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