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Game Profile
FINAL SCORES
9.0
Visuals
9.0
Audio
9.0
Gameplay
9.0
Features
7.5
Replay
8.0
INFO BOX
PLATFORM:
PC
PUBLISHER:
BigPark
DEVELOPER:
BigPark
GENRE: Other
PLAYERS:   1
RELEASE DATE:
February 06, 2009
ESRB RATING:
Not Rated
 Written by Troy Matsumiya  on March 31, 2009

Review: Kills free time like an apple-chucking tree.


Be sure to check out our interview with BigPark's Miles Nurse on the development of Wizard Defense

Everyone loves free Flash games ? everyone, except employers who have this nit-picky thing about their workers goofing off while on the clock. Geez, next thing you know they'll ask us to stop stealing office supplies. We have rights, damnit!

Anyway, one of the most popular Flash game types is tower defense, where you place stationary ?towers? that attack enemies passing by on a set pathway. It's a simple concept but incredibly fun and addicting.

Wizard Defense is yet another entry in the tower defense genre, created by Canadian developer BigPark. This is the young company's first game and is free to play at WizardDefense.com. BigPark was only formed in 2007 but is owned by some industry heavyweights ? including Don Mattrick, former president of Electronic Arts and current senior VP of Microsoft's Interactive Entertainment Business division. Yup, the man running the Xbox business is also The Man at BigPark, so you'll likely be hearing a lot from them in the future.

For now, however, Wizard Defense is their ?hi, how do you do?? introduction to gamers. It is a classic tower defense Flash game that can be played in your web browser but the first thing that strikes you is the unexpectedly high production values. This is no quick and dirty back-of-a-napkin approach typical of many Flash games; rather, it looks and feels almost like a retail game.

For example, the beautiful artwork makes you feel as if you're playing in a water color painting. In fact, you could frame the level maps and proudly hang them on your wall ? they're that pretty.

The same attention to artistic detail is evident in the great looking characters. They have an inspired story book design that manages to be pleasingly cute but not cutesy. The 2-D characters animate very smoothly with subtle movements (such as ears and tails that sway with each footstep) that add a touch of realism. Various special effects like lightning and fire also look very impressive for a Flash game.

And it's not just window dressing either. The game not only looks great but is great fun to play. It doesn't deviate from the traditional tower formula which means it's simple to learn and maddeningly addicting as you try new tactics to beat your high score and advance to the next level. Each tower has different attacks and attributes; some are fast but weak, while others are strong but slow. You need to strategically place the right towers in the right spots to maximize their benefits, compensate for their weaknesses and defeat several waves of enemies before they reach the end of the pathway.

For a simple game it has a surprisingly detailed story. Set in the ancient medieval land of Espeon, students at the School of Wizard Defense are called upon to defend the world against the evil Domidos and his minions by beating the crap out of them with towers. Only in this case, the ?towers? are Elementums, or elemental beings that attack using lightning, fire, ice, rocks and my personal favorite, a tree that rips apples from its head and relentlessly chucks them like a crazed fruit-powered slingshot. Each Elementum can be upgraded once to increase its power, speed or range.

You have a limited budget of Lumens which are used to summon or upgrade your Elementums, but earn more as you kill enemies. Once you place your Elementum it can't be moved so make sure you choose your spots wisely. If you make a mistake, you will either have to live with it or restart the level.

Not only do you have to find the best spot for your Elementum, but also which ones to upgrade. Upgrading activates bonus attacks like stunning, freezing or shrinking enemies, all of which are absolutely vital to surviving in the later levels when enemies come at you with frantically increased numbers, speed and durability.

The game spans five locations, including forest, ice, mountains and volcanoes. Each location consists of two maps and naturally increase in difficulty as you advance. At first, you only have to deal with enemies coming at you from a single entry point and pathway but this soon escalates to three entries and pathways. Needless to say things get pretty frantic at this point as you try to and find the most strategic place to put your Elementums while trying not to blow your budget too early.

Each level only takes a few minutes to complete and you can replay any level you passed to try and increase your score. As you advance you earn medals based on your score, which also unlocks special attack spells that can be used in addition to your Elementums.

The difficulty level ramps up nicely with the later levels becoming quite challenging. Easy difficulty is perfect for beginners and those looking for a quick way to waste a few minutes. Medium will challenge even veteran tower defense players ? especially the final level which gets pretty difficult. Hard is for masochists.

The two-maps per level design generally works well for quick bite-sized entertainment but can get frustrating if you fail on the second map, since doing so will force you to restart from the first map. It would be better if you could simply replay whatever map you want rather than having to start all over again.

Although there are leaderboards, there is no information on how the scoring works -- which would be useful in planning tactics to increase your score. There is also no information on the additional benefits for each upgrade; for example, I only found out from a forum posting that upgrading your range maximizes your chance of a critical hit. This information should be in the instructions or someplace more obvious. Overall, however, these are minor complaints; after all, it's a free game and is still pretty darn fun to play.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the fantastic sound effects, such as the subtle lick of fire, the shattering of frozen enemies, the howling of enemy yeti, and the comical squishy sound when enemies are shrunk. It may be a free Flash game but it looks, sounds and plays better that some retail titles. Very impressive.

Bottom Line
BigPark might have been founded by some big names, but its first project is a light, fun game that is accessible to everyone. We'll have to wait for their bigger full-sized projects but for now, Wizard Defense is a great way to waste your work day. Just be careful because the naturally addictive nature of this excellent tower defense game could turn those few minutes you intended to play into a few hours instead.


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