Reader Critique Requested: Toytown Tower Defense

Having noticed that our readers include a great many fans of tower defense games, the maker of Toytown Tower Defense asked for feedback on why his game might not have been well received. Or let’s put that in less polite terms: it is rated just below 3.5 on Kongregate, when some real garbage clears 4. Let’s get some reviews in the comments, something more substantial and useful than the Twitter-like comments on Kongregate. Try it before my ensuing comments bias your impressions.

My thoughts? I found it annoying.

The music was the worst of it, although the sound effects did not help. It would have been nice to be able to turn off the music but keep the sounds, because the sounds have some useful feedback. The music is not bad for the first thirty seconds or so, but then it is like standing next to the calliope at the circus for hours on end. Upbeat is nice, and in keeping with the tone of the game, but quickly annoying. The other sound effects might not be bad except that enemy hit points ramp up pretty quickly, relative to tower damage. That is a lot of shot sound effects, none of which is individually appealing.

I like the opening splash screen. The rest of the graphics seem like a weaker version of what Mushroom Revolution would go on to do well. There is a narrow band of cute that works well, although that might vary by personal preference, and I think the larger size and higher pixel counts in Mushroom Revolution really help. The color combinations there are more appealing than the auras in Toytown, to my preferences. The more that everything looks pixelated, and one pixel thick, the worse.

Having a hero is an interesting throwback. Since Warcraft III was the big thing for tower defense, it used heroes. Here, the hero is relatively strong, which creates an unfortunate incentive to focus on it, to the detriment of it being a tower defense game. You could probably get quite a ways using just the hero. If I get a hero, I would like to be able to level it up and such, rather than waiting for it to become mostly irrelevant except as an aura/debuffer.

The power plants were not fun. I don’t know what they were meant to add. It’s like worrying about your economy, only it is a momentary irritant that takes up a bit of map space.

I was not fond of the large map size relative to the flash window. That does not always work well even in games that let you go to fullscreen, zoom, and pan: in a flash game, you do not want the tower defense field of play to be that much larger than the visible window. The mini-map in the corner works nicely.

The presents were another problem, especially given the large window. They go away quickly, so you need to be looking at everything all the time, which becomes a problem once you do not have everything dying at the same spot. It is like taunting the players with power-ups then blowing them up before they can get them.

I cannot comment on the balance. I have tried it several times and always quite before leaking any monsters.

The info screen is good. I like the graph of tower comparisons. It is non-obvious that it is there. Also, do the instructions explain anywhere how to click away to be able to build after you have selected your hero? It is not hard to figure out, but one more irritant.

The core gameplay is familiar to the point of being derivative, while almost every detail is annoying. That is really harsh, and I wish that I had more positive things to say, but the game is up against some stiff competition in the flash tower defense arena, and this is never going to be a competitor. It lacks even quirky neatness. Also, there is only the one map, and if you have only one thing, you need to do it really well.

An easy way to increase the number of plays and the ranking is to do whatever is necessary with the Kongregate API to get badges. It will not make the game any different, but far more people will play it, and everything I have seen suggests that people rate anything higher if there are achievements enabled, and they seem to enjoy it more. Primitive mammalian brains, pushing levers for pellets, and all that.

When seeking comments, the developer said he was thinking of going in a more DotA direction. That could be interesting, even if as a single-player game. It would put the focus on the hero more, presumably with some support units/towers. I am not really sure how that would work, without taking it multiplayer, but it might. Another multiplayer option that would make things more interesting is just having two sides against each other: build your towers, choose what type of wave to send next, etc., with either separate monster/tower players or both players on both offense and defense at once. I cannot recall ever having seen that fully executed.

Sorry to be a grumpus, but that was my impression of the game. I can be somewhat finicky about my tower defense.

: Zubon

Full disclosure: if you use one of those links and sign up at Kongregate, I get some kind of points that do nothing but put a number by my name. But, you know.

3 thoughts on “Reader Critique Requested: Toytown Tower Defense”

  1. If you’re introducing ‘new’ elements to a standard game archetype it is probably better to introduce one at a time, perhaps over a number of maps. The game throws too much information at the player in the first instance, and this may well put off anyone not already invested in trying the game.

    Also, basic HCI would suggest that putting the ‘next’ and ‘end intro’ buttons with the text box they affect is sensible, and formatting the text instructions into separated paragraphs would aid with clarity.

    Focus on how the game presents itself at the very start and how it leads the player into the game proper, otherwise you risk losing them before the game has even had its chance to wow them.

    The same goes for the ‘randomness’ of having to click somewhere on the information panel to deselect the hero. If the player is having to fight the interface as much as the game then they’re probably not going to persevere with it for long.

    The music is jarring but can be turned off in the main menu, so it’s not much of an issue, and to be fair I turn it off in most games of this type that I play as the inevitable repetition quickly grates on the soul.

    Of interest: I’ve just flicked back to the game to find some other points and have noticed that the game has been happily ticking over in the background by itself, I’m level 9 now and I haven’t done anything but click randomly around with the hero, testing the ‘deselect’ functionality. So some difficulty balancing might be required. In general it’s good to start out easy and then build the difficulty, but not so much that the player can easily switch off and do something else for a while.

    Tower Defence has been done to death. It’s a great idea as a learning exercise to implement something that already exists, but unless you can produce the polish of Plants vs Zombies or you have a very unique take on the genre, I imagine you face a rather steep uphill battle from the very beginning.

    Having said all that, if the developer is willing to adapt and evolve what they have, I think they have a very nice framework on which to do so. The mechanics behind the game are obviously solid, a little more focus on the interface and player experience, and they could find that they have a neat little game.

  2. Okay, cruel and blunt critiques ahead.

    I have to say, Tower Defense games scream out for cool graphical mayhem to me, and instead we’ve been getting cartoon character overload and cute-passable graphics. Getting specific, the semi-isometric buildings didn’t fit in with the flat landscape, the game field looks awkward as a result. I know other games have pulled that off, but it hasn’t worked here.

    This may sound shallow, but your graphical look is the first entry to a game, so if you’re not getting the audience you expected, that’s the first gate to check.

    Getting a little deeper, the UI is a little cluttered, or at least not as immediately obvious as say Desktop Tower Defense. I’m not fond of this control-panel layout, especially with it edging upwards from left-to-right. Check out some popular DS titles to see efficient and intuitive UI usage in a small space.

    Once someone is in the game, sound & music are the next noticeable things and this music not only disagreed with me, it was too far into the forefront. For me, if it’s a web-based game, music should be either very background or not bother at all. Emphasize and draw out the pizazz with the individual sounds. My first venture into finding the menu shouldn’t be motivated by “oh god make it stop”. When I got there, after turning off sound, I realized there was no separate “music off” button, so I’d lost all sound. That’s a no-no when many people play their own music while browsing, but still want the audio cues for gameplay.

    Obviously a lot of work went into this, but it still feels like it hasn’t gone that extra 9 yards on the details that would make it feel more complete and coherent. I hate to use that word polish, but there it is.

    I kinda agree & disagree with Melmoth that the Tower Defense has been done to death. It’s overcrowded on the casual side, especially with some well-established titles and big names. What it’s missing is more on the depth side and I don’t think that’s going to be achieved within a third-of-the-screen Flash window.

  3. Yeah, I felt like the instructions at the start were off-putting. Towers and power plants and heroes? What the heck is an aura? Do I have to memorize all this now? Will there be a quiz?

    I’d recommend introducing these features slowly over the first few levels.

    Like others, I also had issues with the screen-scrolling, and with the rather odd interface for controlling the hero.

    Best of luck.

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