With so many tower defense games out there, new ones really need some sort of unique twist to set them apart. GemCraft, based on a free Flash game, doesn’t really do that. The one thing that it does new is the titular gem crafting, but it’s a feature that doesn’t really improve the genre much. It actually feels like a step backwards. So in spite of the fact that GemCraft features a whole lot of content, only die-hard TD fans need apply.
Unlike most TD games, you’re not setting up guns and other weaponry to defend against swarms of enemies. In fact, when you first place a tower or a trap, they don’t actually do anything. First, they need gem power. You buy gems, along with everything else in the game, with mana. This magical substance regenerates slowly over time, but you’ll also gather it as you kill enemies.
Perfect location for a shaved ice stand.
A wide range of gems is available. Depending on the size and color of the gem, it will have different attributes, including range, power, and special abilities like poisoning or freezing enemies. Once you buy a gem and place it on a tower or trap, it will start firing. And then things work like pretty much every other TD game in existence.
Because you can also combine gems, this leads to a huge number of potential towers. But in practice, the differences between each type of tower are negligible. The color isn’t as important as the shape, which is what determines the power and range. So while you can experiment will all sorts of color combinations, it won’t make a huge difference.
And when you take out the gem crafting feature, what you’re left with is a decidedly average game. At times the core gameplay in GemCraft can get downright boring. The level design isn’t particularly interesting, with twisting paths that make it very easy to set up a near impenetrable defense, and the difficulty leans towards the easy side. It also looks very plain, with a flat, dull art style full of strange enemies. We’re not even really sure what you’re fighting against– some of the bad guys just look like green squiggles.
Maybe we shouldn’t build directly on the magma?
GemCraft manages to squeeze quite a bit of life out its 30-plus levels, since you’ll have to play through each one several different times under different circumstances. The first go around is the standard ‘fend off X amount of waves’ mode, and after that you’ll slowly unlock additional modes like survival, where you’˜ll try to last for as long as possible. There are seven modes in all, but when the core game isn’t particularly interesting, there isn’t much incentive to keep playing through the same levels numerous times with just slightly different goals.
If you just look at the numbers, GemCraft seems like a great deal. You have a huge number of modes and levels to play through, and a practically unlimited number of gem combinations to play around with. But beneath those numbers lies an average tower defense game. It’s lacking anything in the way of personality or compelling gameplay. You can craft a whole lot gems, but you probably won’t want to.