Oh Mistwalker, we had such high hopes for you. After all, you were founded by Hironobu Sakaguchi, who created the legendary Final Fantasy series and more recently brought The Last Story to life on the Wii. And while Party Wave was an iffy first step into the arena of mobile gaming, it was one we were willing to forgive due to its self-indulgent nature as a tribute to a high school dream. But now, with Blade Guardian, your second release for the iPhone? Well, this is where we begin to grow concerned.
On the App Store, Blade Guardian is described as a “real-time strategy game,” though “tower defense” works just as well. Unfortunately, there is a certain emptiness and vagueness that seemingly calls back to an earlier, simpler time in video gaming, but does not work nearly as well here.
Mechanical versus organic.
When you start, you’re dropped right into the thick of things before you even know it. One might expect a tutorial to play out for the opening level of a game such as this, but the game begins straight away, with the occasional explanation coming up as you go. From the title screen you can access a tutorial that tells you what each of your units can do, but during the actual game you’re on your own.
In an age where most games tend to hold hands a little too much for fear of alienating a potential player, there is some relief in finding a game that allows you to figure some things out for yourself. However, you’ll likely lose a time or three before getting a good grasp on the best way to deal with your foes. And each time you have to replay that opening level, you must also deal with the scattered pieces of tutorial, which only become more irksome.
Then there’s the game’s eponymous Blade Guardian units, which are seemingly meant to help the game innovate, but wind up being more trouble than they’re worth. You can spend money to free these creatures from enemy transports, one gold per shot, but if you have enough of the other units set up, they’ll handle it for you. The downside is that when they are inevitably freed (whether you want them to be or not), they come crashing down, destroying part of your well-planned structure, leaving you open to enemy attack. In their basic form, they aren’t great fighters, but you can upgrade them. However, this turns them into a rolling sphere of destruction controlled by tilting the iOS device, which doesn’t go very well– especially around the many ledges surrounding the platform you’re on.
Circle of life.
Most tower defense games usually make you well-prepared for whatever may come, but Blade Guardian fails greatly at this. For the most part, your equipment feels ineffective– if not defective– and you’re helpless to avoid being overrun before too long. It is possible to eventually overcome the odds, but doing so is a challenge that only the most dedicated fans of the genre will be up to.
Rounding things out are good graphics, but no music to back it up, and no real story in place, either. You have a base unit of some sort you want to protect from aliens, for some reason, and that’s pretty much it. Again, this feels like it might be a throwback to the oldschool, though one has to question whether it really works or not. Suffice to say, any sort of narrative or premise feels leagues away from Final Fantasy, or even Party Wave.
In the end, it’s difficult to tell whether Blade Guardian feels simplistic or just rushed/ unfinished. If you’ve beaten every tower defense game out there and want a challenge, this might provide what you need. But for others, there is little to see here and even less to enjoy.