Review: OTTTD

By Sean Clancy 27 May 2014 0
Monster mash. Monster mash.

The most over-the-top thing about Over the Top Tower Defense is the unwieldy abbreviation it's swinging around as its name. Yes, there are steampunk crustaceans and floating eyeballs here, true enough, and an overzealous inter-dimensional military contractor putting mercenaries to work in the field of “preemptive defense.” Somewhere between those two camps is where you'll find the tons upon tons of meaty giblets and invariably fish-shaped bones your artillery emplacements and freshly employed soldiers of fortune will paint the ground with.

You'll also find your “slow” towers there, your sniper towers, your rocket towers and machine gun towers and so on. They'll be in those predetermined slots you expect them to be in, dotting the predetermined paths enemy mobs travel placidly along towards your home base, which has also been placed for you, and which you need to protect. Now, your soldiers are something different, and it's on their shoulders that OTTTD places a burden. The burden is this: make this game only somewhat like every tower defense ever played, instead of entirely like every one ever played.

It's a heavy burden but, then again, these mercs have power armor. And 'tude.

As does OTTTD as a whole. Tongue is planted firmly in cheek here, even if that cheek is meant to be resting against the butt of a comically large rocket launcher blasting away at bads big and small. “Preemptive defense” isn't just a joke emblematic of the game's typical dude-tastic irony, but a fair description of its attempted twist on tower defense strategy.

Over the course of the campaign you'll come to unlock seven different hero units, of which you can pick three to drop in with your base on a mission. You start with the engineer, who's good with projectile weapons and can boost towers' damage, and soon come to unlock a tank guy (shockwave AOE and healing), a sniper (long range attack, can mark enemies for rocket strikes), soldier (rocket attack, jetpack for maneuverability), stealth guy (mines and invisibility), bombadier (more explosive stuff) and scientist (never used him—but I think he can clone other characters?).

All of these alpha-dudes can repair towers they're next to, as well as fire on enemies with their unique weapon. Each also has a fairly extensive skill tree, with active and passive abilities you can drop points into as your troops level up. The soldier can call in an airstrike, for example, or the stealth-guy (mine was called “Slick 3000”—the game's procedural name generator does an excellent job matching titles to classes) can snag incendiary mines to complement his regular 'splodes kit. Passives are... less interesting, with things like flat boosts to damage with certain weapon types, and bonus damage towards enemies who are already attacking your base. The same skills pop up in multiple class trees, for sure.

"It was Gears Warfriend's idea to rob the taxi service, wasn't it?" "It was Gears Warfriend's idea to rob the taxi service, wasn't it?"

We could talk towers but... dang, do we have to? You've seen these before. OTTTD has four types, the machine gun one which kills small weak mobs easily, the cannon one which is for heavier targets, the rocket one which does AOE damage, and the slow one which drags enemies to a crawl when they pass by it. Each can be upgraded two times for more bangs, blasts, booms and slows or, for more cash, modified into a slightly different sort of tower. The rocket tower, for example, can become an anti-air or swarm missile emplacement, the first being self-explanatory and the second being, well, a tower which shoots a bunch of tiny missiles instead of a few big ones. (This is, presumably, a good thing, but if so the difference is damn subtle.)

The most interesting upgrades belong to the machine gun and slow buildings, with the former being capable of transforming into a roving attack drone and the latter having a shield option which can nullify damage to both your mercs and your towers. Most of the time, though, it just feels like you're choosing which tower model you'd rather look at for the next few minutes. Unlike most tower defense titles, OTTTD doesn't give you much of an indication of what sorts of enemies you'll be facing when a level begins, so there's no viable way to plan your tower placement beyond assessing where a level's paths lead (almost invariably merging into one lane before running into your base) and building as many general-purpose towers as you can afford. “Let's go with rocket... rocket... rocket and... rocket. There, done.”

Mobs aren't particularly varied either. You have your small ones, your bigger ones, some which can do ranged attacks as they drive along, some which can shield or hide other mobs and, of course, those really big ones with the annoying large health bars -- who don't demand that you change your defensive lineup, really, just that you add more junk to it.

Who used to live in a pineapple under the sea? Who used to live in a pineapple under the sea?

You might think having these fully mobile, self-sufficient heroes to wander around between your static defenses would mean OTTTD is a dynamic sort of tower defense game, where threats are coming from all sides and you need to constantly shift your forces around in order to adapt and survive. But it really isn't. The threat is bog-standard tower defense, and your troops—for all their skills—aren't powerful enough to recast the ol' mob march of doom in a new light. You're never presented with a scenario where you need to shuttle your troops to a certain location, or deploy them in an area where, say, your towers can't go, or won't work.

Aside from their global strike abilities and piddling damage, the best use of your mercs is repairing towers. Which means they're best placed... next to towers, which are in turn best placed close together (to make the most efficient use of repairs and shielding) near your base. All of which means that these mercs just end up acting as slightly less powerful towers, hanging back, endlessly passive and waiting for their ability timers to recharge, shooting at foes that are kind enough to walk towards them. OTTTD's attempt at something novel is co-opted by every other mechanic in the game, all of which are too thoroughly by-the-book. Having a team of heroes to manage is a welcome change, but because the notion of these characters hasn't influenced the rest of OTTTD's design, at all, this isolated element of the game is doomed to fall somewhat flat.

Your mercs are just too fragile, and too beholden to these damnable towers (they'll make slaves of us all, mark me now!) to range around. Worse still is the fact that getting one of your team killed carries repercussions beyond just running through the rest of a mission one man down. I'm talking repercussions of the sleazy, IAP kind. OTTTD is willing to match your first few hero deaths with free revives after you've exited a mission. But, after those are exhausted you'll need to either pony up a red gem—one of OTT TD's two in-game currencies, the other being coins—or wait something like 45 minutes in order to play with that character again.

Apparently all these guys are December births. Apparently all these guys are December births.

Sure, the “out” here is that you can easily just slot in another dude (probably one you hate using and haven't leveled, who's more likely to get greased) and jump back in, but this is pretty galling for a game with an upfront payment, especially one so blatant about its semi-finished state (hero armor and a third dimension to gib things in are both “coming soon”). You can get a handful of red gems—coins, too—by getting good ratings on stages, too, but that's missing beyond the point. The expensive, high-tier weapons can be forgiven (but only just, as they start to seem more and more necessary in later stages, where one can't help but wonder if they've hit a cunningly manufactured spike in difficulty), but to try and charge people for failing at a level?

Now, I did have a good time with OTTTD—early on. In the first ten or so levels, when you're still being introduced to new towers and heroes, the game's a just-hectic-enough blast. But as things progress it feels as though you need to grind the same levels over and over (or drop a bit of cash on better hero weapons and revives) in order to keep up with ever more mobs with ever fatter health bars—a fairly lazy way to increase the challenge, to be honest. It's not long before every stage ends with that biblical tidal wave of enemies, obscuring your vision and preventing you from doing anything but jogging your finger around to repeatedly heal the same towers over and over, in the hope that your base can last just long enough. Is this over the top? Yeah. Is it engaging? Not particularly.

OTTTD is, like so many recent tower defense games, at its best when it's trying to pretend it's not a tower defense game—at least not entirely one. While the game has novel elements—and a good amount of style—that help to separate it from the truly rank-and-file representatives of the genre, it can be hard to see Over the Top Tower Defense's coat of cartoonish bravado and excessive force as anything but a disguise for the same-old tower defense mechanics, and a questionable IAP scheme.

I can confirm the existence of the shark airship, though. That one's hard to miss.

OTT TD was played on a 3rd generation iPad for this review.

Review: OTTTD

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