Elf Defense: Save the Kingdom

Jelly Oasis is guilty of only one misstep in this gorgeous little game: the title. “Elf Defense” is descriptive in only the most vague way; it really doesn’t do this fantastic castle defense effort justice at all.

But a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, they say, and Elf Defense is a tour de force that plays just as phenomenally regardless of the name. Perhaps the bare bones naming of the game was a sort of concession to modesty, or maybe the makers of Jelly Oasis have noted that some of the most over-the-top titles in the App Store are attached to games that are mediocre at best.  At any rate, don’t be fooled — Elf Defense has all of the bells and whistles, and then some.

Gameplay

Elf Defense starts out with a delightful animated intro to give players an idea of the game’s backstory.  Of course, castle defense titles don’t really need much backstory — “These guys are trying to get into our castle, don’t let ‘em!” is the tried and true theme. But it does give the makers of Elf Defense the opportunity to show off their character design and artwork, which is well worth the closer look.

Give your tower's a boost with special powers!
Give your tower’s a boost with special powers!

Long story short, the elven nation has done everything possible to appease its human counterparts, but the grasping, greed-riddled human race is having none of it.  They’re tired of just poaching and extorting from their generous former friends and are making a full frontal attack on the elven strongholds. Time to dust off the exploding acorns and brush up on your instant-icicles magic, little guys.

Each stage takes place in one of four different environments — four chances for the designers of the game to show off some more. Waves of enemies, humans and their monster allies come moseying along a path toward the elven fortress and the player strategically places defense units to keep the evil onslaught from taking out their tower.

Interface & Functionality

Controls are standard for tower defense, although the developers have taken the extra time to refine a few things to maximize your ability to make use of your touchscreen real estate. For example, while special items and skills are arrayed at the bottom of the screen, clutter is kept to a minimum by integrating the placement and choice of actual combat units.

Elves are deadly but adorable!
Elves are deadly but adorable!

To place a new elven or mercenary unit, tap an available spot; the menu of choices (represented by self-explanatory icons) pops up right there. The same system applies for upgrades and removal — tap the unit you want to remove or upgrade, and your options conveniently and instantly appear, literally at your fingertip. You get a small amount of cash back for each removal, by the way, but it’s more conciliatory than anything else — when possible, place units in ways that will optimize defense throughout the level.

The number of waves you’ll face in each level is previewed; alarm sirens and a pop-up let you know when a “fast,” “air,” “boss,” or otherwise special wave is incoming, too. The variety of defenders available increases as you progress in the game — with the introduction of a new type of defending unit, you’ll get a screen which succinctly explains its strengths and weaknesses. This, along with the between-screens tips makes the game a tutorial in progress. Pair that with the easy mode’s very gentle introduction to castle defense and the normal mode’s significantly more challenging pacing, and you’ve got a game designed to hook just about everyone.

Two types of currency, coins and holy leaves, are used within the game. Coins are predominantly used for purchasing new units, while holy leaves are the dough you’ll be itching to spend in the item shop. There are also upgrades and early access to mercenary heroes to tempt you (and the mercenary pack is a great buy); of course, you can shortcut the process by buying more leaves with that real-world green, too.

Design & Performance

Elf Defense shines most aesthetically. It’s a perfect reminder in a world where anyone who thinks they know how to design a game has thrown an app out there that there are people who do this, and do it very, very well, for a career. This is one of the most polished, professionally presented games I’ve seen in a long time, and while the concept and premise are traditional, Elf Defense is overflowing with personality thanks to absolutely superior art direction and character design. The game is truly a treat for the eyes.

Make sure you upgrade your towers!
Make sure you upgrade your towers!

Closing Thoughts

Elf Defense is a great entry level game for someone new to this genre, but it also boasts the complexity of design and need for evolving strategy necessary to make it enjoyable for veteran players. The beauty of the game and its overall sophistication make the $2.99 pricetag eminently reasonable. Check it out, Elf Defense is in the App Store now, and compatible with iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad.


Summary

Elf Defense is a great entry level game for someone new to this genre, but it also boasts the complexity of design and need for evolving strategy necessary to make it enjoyable for veteran players.

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