Review: Tower in the Sky29 May 2017 0
Review: Tower in the Sky
Released 01 May 2017
Tower in the Sky is a strategy game in the sense that MOBAs are a strategy genre. It does not care too much about logistics, tactics, or even proper strategic planning in the traditional military way -- instead, a barrage of enemies and quick clicking are the key to victory. Unlike MOBAs, though, Tower in the Sky was developed as a mobile title, and as such it is slightly shallow as a PC release.
Taking place in a magical land called “the Kingdom”, the game sees you control a party of heroes as they venture forth to stop an invasion and defeat an ancient enemy. Send forward unto their quest by a prophecy regarding meteor showers and the appearance of the eponymous tower in the sky, this title by indie developer Three Brothers Games is simple, yet offers a lot of content and challenges.
The general gameplay strongly resembles Plants vs. Zombies, with a 2D sideways screen where enemies slumber from left to right in an effort to kill the player. Unlike PopCap’s acclaimed title, Tower in the Sky forgoes tower defense mechanics for quick reaction times and smart swapping of characters. Long cooldowns and a constant barrage of enemies means you must constantly switch heroes between lanes in order to take out incoming threats, lending the gameplay a frenetic disposition that constantly keeps you on your toes.
However, it’s not as good as it should be. Enemies move too fast and cooldowns recharge too slowly, often leaving you defenseless or just staring at the screen waiting for abilities to replenish. While that would be manageable if enemy behaviour was constant, the game seems to be stacked against players. Usually, enemies move one spot every few seconds, but once the end of the lane is reached, they constantly unleash attacks in a row until they are dispatched. This dichotomy between movement and attack times is unbalanced and unsettling, and it is exacerbated by how long it takes for your characters’ pithy regular attacks to be available. At the best of times, it leaves a bad impression and comes off as unfair; at the worst of times, it feels very much like cheating.
It doesn’t help matters that some enemy designs are downright annoying, like the ghosts that go invisible and can’t be hit at the same time they dish out punishment upon your team, or the little creature that hides inside a trunk and completely nullifies your attacks, leaving your characters defenseless for several seconds. Overall, it all contributes to an atmosphere of little flexibility and leeway, where a good mission can go bad by a couple of missed clicks. Even with special abilities that stop time or heal your characters, the game seems awfully hard, as these one-use abilities take even more time to recharge than the already obnoxiously long normal strikes. The overall challenge is mitigated somewhat by the sensible decision of allowing players to change the difficulty level at any time, but that doesn't hide the inherent bad balance of some of the key gameplay features.
Luckily, those are the only major bad aspects of an otherwise solid production. The game writing is surprisingly funny, with a quality above average in an industry where even AAA titles feature abhorrent scripts. The interface is quite user friendly and clearly mobile-inspired, with large buttons and simple controls that never get in the way of the action. Elementary, the graphics are modest and plain, but the art design makes up for any missing pizzaz -- a sizeable variation on character design keeps each individual visually interesting, while the short story cutscenes and world maps are pleasantly uncomplicated.
Technically, Tower in the Sky is mixed. The sound effects are passable, while the music is a despicably repetitive 8-bit like tune. Luckily, it is barely noticeable after the main menu. The game’s only graphical settings are a dozen resolution choices, but it runs smoothly -- as a mobile port, it would be unforgivable if its performance was anything but. Weirdly, I’ve been unable to get the game working in fullscreen mode, presenting me with a black screen while the game’s annoying soundtrack played in the background. Disappointingly, the game refused to save my settings upon exit, forcing me to forcefully window the application every time I started it. I sought assistance in the forums where the developers seem to be active, but I have not heard back at the time of publishing.
Finally, the game could use a bit of polish. It lacks a proper explanation of some features -- like the fact sword melee strikes can hit enemies four columns deep -- and more information regarding some of its mechanics. The upgrade tab has a prominent “Reset Skills” button on top that only seems to work before you leave the screen -- something deeply frustrating given the complete lack of corollary. Even more confusing, the upgrades descriptions are not really comprehensive or integrated with the game -- one of the first upgrade options was “Double chance of mega crystal”, and by that point I didn’t even knew what a mega crystal was.
With a simple playstyle and a lot of content, Tower in the Sky is an interesting little game that can keep you occupied for a while. It constantly pushes your forward as characters and items are unlocked as you progress through the game, but sometimes it forces you to backtrack or lower the difficulty thanks to its uneven balance and unfair mechanics. While the Steam version is not bad by any means, the game design is clearly intended for mobile, so keep that in mind in case you want to give this indie title a shot.