Tower defense games were among the first to stand out on the App Store, due to their touch-friendly controls and short, wave-based levels. But until now, the genre hasn’t evolved much. Last year’s Fieldrunners 2 is polished and varied, but it’s fundamentally the same game as 2008‘s Besiegement. Heroes and Castles, on the other hand, upturns the tower defense genre and makes it feel much more immediate and exciting.
Instead of watching over your castle from a bird’s eye view, in Heroes and Castles you are standing right there on the front lines. Hordes of evil enemies, like skeleton warriors, mummies, and goblin bomb-throwers will swarm your castle walls, seeking to destroy them and attack the keep inside. You have to run up to them and fight back, all while ordering battlefield reinforcements and armaments for the walls.
Attack, my minions!
This groundbreaking combination of third-person action and strategic resource management is simply outstanding. At any given moment, you’ll have to order the construction of gold mines to generate more revenue, archers to patrol the wall, pitchfork-wielding peons to roam the battlefield, and reinforced barriers to slow the enemy’s assault. And those are just the early upgrades– later in the game, you’ll be able to build a battle academy, ballistas, generals, giants, and dwarven sharpshooters.
You can never just sit back and let your peons do all the work, nor can you act as the lone defender. It’s in finding a careful balance between immediate action and strategic planning that Heroes and Castles reveals its substantial depth.
Pike the football.
The mechanics of Heroes and Castles are also incredibly sound. Your hero moves freely around the battlefield with basic touch controls. Your archers, peons, and other support units have decent AI, and over time, you can upgrade them to make them faster, stronger, and more accurate.
Heroes and Castles offers three different playable characters– a knight, paladin, and engineer– and there’s a reward for beating all 20 levels with each character. However, the castle you defend barely changes, except for some slight weather effects, and it would have been nice to fight in different locations. What does improve the variety is an endless, online co-op mode through Game Center. Additional modes, like versus multiplayer, are teased on the menu screens for a later update.
Heroes and Castles captures the immediacy of battle in a way that few tower defense games can. It’s more like the console series Dynasty Warriors, or the Helm’s Deep battle in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, than your typical App Store adventure. When the war horn sounds, your defenses fall, and a swarm of skeleton warriors rushes in to destroy your keep, Heroes & Castles is a pulse-pounding experience that is practically unmatched.