What was the promise of playing games in high-definition again? A sharper resolution was part of it, more details on the screen. In that respect, Starship Defense, a new game with a superb pedigree is the most HD DS game.
Starship Defense is the latest tower defence game from Q-Games, which, for fans of tower defence is probably all the knowledge needed. Yes, the people who made PixelJunk Monsters have taken tower defence to the Nintendo DSi and put it in outer space, adding a dash of Galaga or Galaxian.
But for those who care not about tower defence, this game may be interesting instead for its look. It is a game set on what looks like tightly-lined graph paper, featuring an intensely detailed array of colourful ships and turrets engaged in the starship defence that gives the game its name. Why might you want an intensely-detailed 2D game full of small numbers, small figures and all kinds of tiny dots and shapes that a person with mediocre vision might not be able to see? Well, this game is the test of that.
Monsters In Space: PixelJunk Monsters, Q-Games previous tower defence game, has two great attributes. It can be played in co-op. OK, no match for that here. Starship Defense can't. Its levels are specific, memorable and devilishly difficult. Starship Defense has got that. Across as many as 30 levels, you use the stylus to arm an armada of ships to stop enemy attack swarms. Your armada takes different shapes in each level, sometimes one big capital ship with some smaller ships flying at each side, sometimes a flotilla of saucers. The ships are all covered with potential turret points, places where you can spend your limited currency to build a variety of lasers, guns, black-hole cannons and other fun stuff. From the top screen, in different configurations in each level, rain 10 waves of enemy fighters. The fighters will stream into the flightpath of your armada, hopefully not surviving or blowing up your ships, if you placed the towers well enough. Each level plays differently, some focusing on evasive, ghost ship enemies, others on waves of tougher enemy saucers or even giant space snakes. The levels make you think and sweat. The variety of towers and the wide range of available strategies makes the tower defence in this game top of the line.
The Squint-Worthy Graphics: The game is almost too-detailed, a comment that might cause confusion for those looking at the screenshot atop this review. With spaceship and space art rendered in white and greys, and with enemy ships and towers rendered as simple with simple colours and shapes, the game probably doesn't look like the graphical stand-out I'm saying it is. But in motion, Starship Defense renders battles that are as populated with detail as a cloudless starry night. What's surprising is how specific and finely-detailed the graphics are. Small dabs of colour indicate special tendencies in towers that have been upgraded, for example, a tiny splash of blue meaning a missile launcher will fire faster. Minuscule enemy bullets firing from an incoming squadron and the game's World Smallest Health Bar are as crucial as tiny numbers in the menu screens that identify costs of the towers, or the little red "S" icons you might miss the first time that are themselves a crucial bit of information the player needs to be aware of. I've never seen so much activity and information scrunched into such a small screen, something I worried was going to be an eye-straining design flaw but instead makes Starship defence an exciting hint of the potential of more richly-rendered handheld games.
The Q-Games Touch: The music is good in this game, reminding me of some of Star Wars' gentler themes. Good music is a Q-Games hallmark. More specific to Q's work on the DS, from the studios' Digidrive and Trajectile releases to this one, is the inclusion of an on-screen clock and battery-life indicator. What Q seems to do by choice and studio tradition would best be an option offered by all. It's nice to be able to see how much battery I have left on my portable game in terms of bars, without having to pause the game. Same with knowing what time it is. Who wants to stop playing to look at their watch?
Starship defence is going to be most enjoyed by fans of tower defence games. It deserves to stand out from its dense genre pack. But it's also a successful visual experiment, one that sacrifices colour and texture to intensify detail and activity. It's worth a play for some and a look for others, hopefully satisfying to all.
Starship Defense was developed by Q-Games and published by Nintendo exclusively as a downloadable game for the Nintendo DSi on January 18. Retails for $US5. Played through to the final, 30th mission, during two weeks of subway rides, perfecting 16 levels some after many, many tries.
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