It’s a documented scientific fact that the fastest way to send a Star Wars fanboy into anaphylactic shock is to casually insinuate that The Empire Strikes Back is somehow not the best movie of the series. This is why it surprises me that a decent tower defense variant of the Rebel stand on Hoth has never surfaced before in video games -- with waves of enemies, trenches, and the ubiquitous Imperial Walkers, it seems tailor-made for the treatment.
With Star Wars: The Battle For Hoth, the LucasFilm gang made a wise decision in licensing. They entrusted their franchise to Fluffy Logic, the folks responsible for the well-received but mostly overlooked tower defense game Savage Moon on PSN last year. Before we discuss how successful the results were, I think it’s important to get all the obligatory Star Wars puns out of the way up front, don’t you?
Is The Battle for Hoth a metric tauntaun of fun? Does Fluffy Logic have the chops to show us where it’s AT-AT, or are the claims of quality Echo Base-less? Will SW:TBFH get a chilly reception, or prove once again that there’s no business like snow business? Read on for the official review; I’ll be proactively punching myself in the kidney for you all over here.
Star Wars: The Battle For Hoth (iPhone)
Star Wars: The Battle For Hoth pits you as the commander of the Rebel forces in 15 levels of tower defense action against waves of increasingly stronger Imperial forces. For you Star Wars fans, you’ll be pleased to know that the game is a solid use of the license.
All the Rebel and Imperial units are immediately recognizable to lovers of the franchise; everything from Viper probe droids and AT-ATs to snow speeders and ion cannons are present. Music and sound effects from the movies set the tone well, although the blaster noises can get a bit repetitive after 20 waves. While the graphics are rudimentary compared to other iPhone offering in the genre, completing a level results in a video clip from The Empire Strikes Back as a reward, so those making their annual pilgrimage to Skywalker Ranch will be sure to get their full dose of sweet Vitamin L while on the road.
The game is fairly fast-paced, with an eye to keeping the player engaged. Your troops will get over-run early and often once you pass the first few levels, so you will have to balance building out new defenses with checking in on your existing ones to ensure that destroyed units are replaced and upgraded before the next wave arrives.
Also, Fluffy Logic takes a page from the Plants vs. Zombies design book by making resource gathering a manual process. Destroying certain troops and waves will result in an wrench icon that must be tapped or swiped in order to acquire essential command points to build new units. Ignore them for long enough, and they’ll disappear for good.
The upside of all these elements is that they fight off lulls in the action; there’s always something for you to be doing. The downside is that what the game gains in action, it gives up in strategy. Hardcore tower defense players will find some fuel for criticism here. Once the game picks up, you will many times be forced into a sub-optimal placement for your units due to all the action you’ll need to manage.
The end result of all this is that quite often you’ll find yourself just spamming units on the screen and relying on strength of numbers to hold off the Empire instead of really thinking out the best way to arrange and upgrade your troops. Ultimately, your enjoyment or frustration with this will hinge on where you fall in the action vs. strategy continuum.
The game allows you to dig trenches by spending command points, with a defensive bonus for units stationed in them. While these bonuses are negligible against some of the tougher enemy types, the trenches will force ground troops to move around them, allowing you to catch troopers and droids in a carefully orchestrated crossfire or (most likely) a scattershot of fire from hastily dropped units.
It’s a nice touch that adds a little spice to the strategy side of things, but is somewhat hamstrung by a few control issues. The grid is tight with smaller squares, so precision placement is more difficult to achieve. The dragging is extremely responsive, but with the squares and icons so small, your fingers will be obscuring the screen. You’ll be forced to choose between selling the unit at a loss to try again, or just dealing with the botched placement.
This issue is particularly frustrating when building trench formations. I recognize that you have to keep the squares small to ensure there’s enough grid room for decent gameplay, but a simple solution would have been to offset the dragged icons and placement cursor to the side of where you make contact with the screen so that you know exactly where you’ll be placing something.
None of these flaws are dealbreakers, however. The game does a great job of capturing the hopeless, fatalistic feelings from the Battle of Hoth in the movie, despite the unimpressive graphics. After the first few levels, boss units and other troops will regularly wreak havoc on your formations; there is no skating through any of the later levels. The first time an AT-AT easily lays waste to multiple layers of your thick defensive formations and you’re forced to scramble to build a few meagre units at the last second to finish it off, you’ll be reminded of the Rebels giving their lives to buy those few extra minutes for their ships to escape.
Even taking into account some control issues and a lack of strategic depth compared to other games in the genre, Star Wars: The Battle For Hoth succeeds in being both a good tower defense game and a great licensed Star Wars game. For non-hardcore TD aficionados or long time Star Wars fans I can easily recommend a purchase at $2.99. My one true disappointment? There are no tilt controls anywhere in the game, which prevents me from making a horrible/awesome joke about Fluffy Logic bringing balance to the Force.
Score: 7.5 -- Good (7s are solid games that definitely have an audience. Might lack replay value, could be too short or there are some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.)