YOU SHALL NOT PASS
Let's face it--there are a lot of tower defense games out there. It seems like anyone with even the slightest bit of interest in game development has pumped one out at some point, often resulting in a pretty lackluster final product that's hardly any different from the pack. But for every dozen or so glorified flash game clogging up the market, there's bound to be one game fresh enough to really be worth your time right?
Where could one learn about these mysterious games with new ideas, undeniable charm, and addicting gameplay? Judging by the fact that you've clicked on this article, we think you know the answer to that. So enough beating around the bush--read on and discover the ten tower defense games that we believe stand above the rest.
10. South Park Let's Go Tower Defense Play! (Xbox 360)
Way, way back before The Stick of Truth blew us out of the water, there was a time when even a decent video game set in the town of South Park seemed like an impossibility. After a middling shooter, boring kart racer, and outright misguided minigame quiz, what chance was there for a tower defense game to avoid mediocrity?
It turns out that just wasn't the case for South Park Let's Go Tower Defense Play! (man, what a name). The game kept the action up by giving players control of characters that not only built towers, but also collected cash and fought on the frontlines. With strong multiplayer and plenty of crude, foul-mouthed humor, it was the first to prove that Stan, Kyle, Cartman, and Kenny could find a real home in gaming.
9. Revenge of the Titans (PC, PS Vita)
Sometimes, gamers are like children. We go to the store and see a shiny new toy or weapon upgrade on the shelf and just have to have it. Why should we wait until the end of the game for that upgrade when we can see it there, taunting us with its super-cool, minion-demolishing awesomeness? It's just not fair!
Revenge of the Titans is merciful in this regard, allowing players to purchase tower and resource upgrades at any point through its charming 50 level campaign. Whether you choose to research powerful superweapons, carefully specialized towers, or more resource-collecting refineries than you know what to do with, open-ended strategy is the name of the game. Actually, it's "Revenge of the Titans," but you know what we mean.
8. Sanctum 2 (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
The best hybrid is more than the sum of its parts. While it's easy to take two different genres and mash them together into a single product, what's really important is to isolate and understand the strengths of the styles being combined. More than a unique weapon or some witty, quotable banter, these fundamentals are what will keep an audience entertained hour after hour, round after round.
Don't believe us? Then take a good hard look at Sanctum 2 in action. The game stands above its competitors by marrying the excitement and adrenaline of an FPS with the strategically-satisfying mental gymnastics of a maze defender. The end result is a kind of left-brain right-brain, chocolate and vanilla-type synergy that's often attempted, but rarely pulled off quite so well.
7. Dungeon Defenders (PC, PSN, XBLA)
Dungeon Defenders is another example of a successful hybrid--albeit one that aims quite a bit higher than Sanctum 2. Instead of limiting itself to two genres, it grabs hold of as many features as possible and Frankensteins them into one hulking, improbably enjoyable monster of a game. Tower defense, third-person action, level-ups, skill sets, loot drops, pets, and four person co-op: it's all here, and somehow it's never too overwhelming.
While novel at first, these inclusions serve the more important role of introducing longevity into the game. Fighting wave after wave of enemies becomes infinitely less tiresome when there are skills to improve, weapons to find, and bosses to conquer. It's still technically a grind, but it's one that we're happy to share with some pals late into the night.
6. Anomaly 2 (PC, PS4)
More than once, we've felt a tinge of regret as we mowed down yet another legion of mindless minions. Most don't stand a chance, merely existing as cannon fodder thrown into a devastatingly one-sided massacre beyond their control. If the tables were turned and we were the ones running the gauntlet, would our foes spare a shred of sympathy?
Absolutely not, but that doesn't mean that we can't put up a good fight. Branded as a "tower offense," the Anomaly series stands as a refreshing twist on the genre, giving you a course and pitting you against the pre-built defenses of the enemy. The sequel builds on the first with the important addition of an asymmetrical multiplayer mode, a fantastic cat and mouse experience that, frankly, we're surprised hasn't been around for years.
5. Orcs Must Die! 2 (PC)
Much like zombies, robots, Nazis, and aliens, the video game orc exists merely to be slaughtered at the hands of some rugged hero. Barring few exceptions, they're nameless, faceless foes with no ambition in life aside from looking evil and charging into an untimely death. In fact, we here at GamesRadar would be against the prejudiced representation of such a proud, mistreated race... if they just weren't so much gosh-darned fun to kill.
Orcs Must Die! 2 is one of our favorite examples of this timeless practice. The game's inventive traps, diverse third-person combat, and cooperative gameplay maximize our orc-killitude, while the frequent last stands that mark the end of a successful round often trick us into believing that someday these twisted, ugly creatures may actually pose a threat. But let's face it--until the hotly anticipated release of Orcs Are Our Friends Please Stop Killing Them! we'll just have to keep on doing what we do best.
4. Kingdom Rush (PC, iOS)
With the staggeringly large number of tower defense flash games out there, it's not surprising that one managed to rise above the rest. Kingdom Rush doesn't dramatically remake the genre--you still place buildings to kill the enemies running by--but it does execute the standard formula with plenty of finesse.
In fact, it does so in a way that's so deceptively simple that just about anyone can pick it up and find themselves on the path to the more advanced tactics later levels require. There are only four initial types of towers, yet with upgrades the abilities of each splinter until they become entirely unique. Barracks buildings will always create units to slow down and damage oncoming enemies, but their exact placement can make or break a defense. It may be casual at first, but even the early rounds will have the strategic part of your brain running at full speed.
3. Plants vs. Zombies (PC, iOS, PSN, XBLA, Nintendo DS)
You saw this one coming, didn't you? PopCap's relentlessly quirky defense game is nothing short of addictive, and is as fun as they come. We can still remember the first time we giggled at Crazy Dave's garbled gibberish, cried with our wounded Wall-nut as he fell to the hoard, and laughed at the (literally) mindless notes passed on from our would-be brain munchers.
But what good would all that charisma be without an airtight game to back it up? Plants vs. Zombies does away with the mazelike paths of other tower defense games for just a few short rows, minimizing the play field without losing any of its depth. The perfect balance between economy, fire support, and barriers is always in flux, with different scenarios calling for a unique combination of the various militaristic plants. And that's to say nothing of the minigames, puzzles, survival mode, zen garden, and other bits and pieces that make PvZ, without a doubt, an extremely solid package.
2. PixelJunk Monsters (PC, PSN)
What's a weird, turtle-like parent to do when dangerous monsters are threatening to eat his beloved children: sit back and let them chow down, or dance in front of nearby trees until they magically transform into crossbows and cannons? If you answered the latter, then PixelJunk Monsters is the game for you. If you were fine with the first--well, we sincerely hope that you aren't looking into parenthood any time soon.
This charming tower defense may seem innocent at first, but underneath the quaint hood is one the most frantic games of any genre. By giving the building and cash collection responsibilities to the strange playable turtle-man as opposed to a simple high-speed cursor, PixelJunk Monsters becomes a desperate race to jump from responsibility to responsibility. Improvisation is key as the rounds continue, and soon enough you'll be making the tough decisions that no parent should ever have to face.
1. Defense Grid (PC, XBLA)
Every once in a while a game will come around that tries to pull a fast one on us. It plops out some pretty graphics and fancy destruction physics and hopes that we don't notice what's underneath--stale ideas, broken mechanics, and the most boring gameplay you can imagine.
Thankfully, Defense Grid is not one of these games. Despite an impressive attention to visual detail, it still executes plenty of the tower defense essentials better than the rest. The addition of challenge levels offers a nice incentive to dive back into the levels we've already mastered, while the charmingly proper voice of our AI companion gives the otherwise straightforward campaign a bit of welcome personality--a polished, well-rounded package if we've ever seen one.
Hold the line
Now that you've made it through all ten waves of text, it's time to look to your next challenge: the comments section. Disagree with our choices? Got an unsung favorite? Let us know!