Tower AR ARKit game

Tower AR Game Review

In this post, I am sharing my review of a tower defense title with an AR mode called Tower AR.  I a big fan of tower defense games and the moment I saw this game I knew straight away that I am going to play it. I wanted to review the game a few days ago. However, I contacted the developer and he mentioned that there is an update with many new cool features, so I postponed it.

I’ve played Version 1.1. This version adds a campaign, difficulty options, water in AR mode, informational load screen an animation adjustments among other features.

It’s also worth mentioning that the game can be played in a normal non-AR mode as well. You have the option to enable or disable the AR mode.

OK now that with are done with the intro let’s just straight into the review.

Tower AR Gameplay

Let’s first of all talk about the how the game actually plays. Tower AR is a tower defense game. You need to protect the island by preventing evil ogres to reach the blue crystal at the other side of the map. If that crystal is destroyed you lose the game.

You have three different defense items you can use to defend the island: A small cannon, a large turret and an electric tower that slow down enemies and reduce their health. In fact, both the canon and the turret also slow down enemies by staggering them as they get hit by their projectiles.

Great AR tutorial by the way.

You can only place the armory units in special points on the map. Those places are highlighted on the map so you can clearly locate them. The enemies will move alongside a designated road toward the endpoint where the crystal is located. The crystal has a health bar, if it reaches zero you lose.

You can place the defense units by selecting them from a little sliding menu. Each structure can also be upgraded up to three times to become a more powerful one. For example, when you upgrade the Turret, it can shoot faster, reach longer and deal more damage. Your defense structures also have a health bar which is reduced while the structures are dealing damage to the enemy units. Once that health bar is depleted the structure is destroyed. You can upgrade and repair structures using coins, which you get by eliminating enemy units. A structure with a lower health bar will cost more to repair and upgrade compared to one that has more health.

You can also salvage a unit and get some coins back. However, keep in mind that once a structure is deployed, it’s already worth 50% less than the original price. Its value gets even lower as it is being used. Sometimes it’s better to sell a low-health structure than letting it be destroyed due to low health because then you can no coins at all. You can also repair your structures partially. For example, if a full repair costs 150 coins and you have only 60 coins, it will repair part of the structure relative to a number of coins you put into repairing it. One more thing, if you upgrade a structure, it’s health is replenished to 100%. So if you are thinking about upgrading a unit, maybe it’s worth waiting a bit, even if it’s low on health, and upgrade it instead of repairing it and then upgrading it.

I wish there were more type of structures to use. I found it very limiting and I’ll explain more about it in the difficulty section.

Tower AR plays relatively slow. It took me about 8 minutes to finish each round and around 16 minutes to finish level 5 of the campaign on the hardest “Expert” difficulty. The game wasn’t built around speed but more around strategic thinking. Giving the player time to think which unit to use and where and whether it’s worth upgrading a unit or putting another defense units along the road.

One more thing that I want to talk about are the enemy units. In Tower AR there are five different enemy characters:

  • The Shaman – the slowest of the bunch but five times stronger than the ‘Basic Huter’ and ‘Basic Warrior
  • Basic Hunter – Has common health and strength
  • Basic Warrior – has same health as the basic hunter but he is faster
  • Experienced Hunter – has a skill helmet on his head which gives him additional protection against mortar bombs and he is also the fastest character in the game, therefore much harder to kill
  • Experienced Warrior – twice as strong as the basic warrior, but killing him gives more coins

The enemy units don’t harm any of your structures, they just move along the path.

Tower AR Game Difficulty & Fun Factor

I didn’t find Tower AR to be a difficult game. The only time I failed is when I just started playing and when I used the electric tower. In fact, I didn’t even need to use the electrifying tower unit at all, I just used the turrets and upgrade them and this was enough to deal with all the enemies in the 5th campaign mission at the hardest difficulty.

There are five different difficulty levels:

  • Having fun
  • Casual
  • Normal
  • Advanced
  • Expert

After finishing each level you get a 3-star rank, which I assume is based on the time it took you to finish the level. I didn’t get 3-star in any of the levels that I did. So this can be more challenging and might encourage some players to go and redo those missions. However, the question is is there any reason to do it? Is there a hidden level waiting for you after you achieve this? I guess not and I didn’t try to find out. If there was, the developer should have revealed it to encourage players to finish all the campaign levels at 3-star rating.

I also think that only 5 level campaign is quite short, at least after playing all of them and seeing that it’s really not that difficult. It took me like around 2 hours to finish the campaign. From that point ono is either going back to the campaign trying to get those 3-star rating or play a ‘Quick Battle’, which is just a random level play.

I am disappointed that the game didn’t offer a more challenging gameplay. The gameplay itself is quite slow, and after you finish putting the structures in place there isn’t anything thrilling to do, just tapping to upgrade units or placing new once along the road (and you don’t need a lot of them to finish each level).

I personally would have preferred that the game will be more intense and keep me on my toes—I didn’t get this from this game. At the end, it was just a slow-pace non-thrilling tower defense game. I personally prefer a tower defense game that is faster-paced and requires more frequent micromanagement.

Graphics, UI, Sound

The graphics quality are one of the best parts of the game. It’s a beautiful game. It has very detailed and vibrant visuals with a magnificent level design where the level is built like an island surrounded by a vast sea. The water rendering and animation are beautiful to look at, I loved the little bridges that connect the parts of the island, the torches with the burning fire the explosions as the turret projectiles hit the ground—it really a beautiful looking game.

Beautiful detailed map, Tower AR screenshot
Beautifully detailed map.

The same goes to the character animations that look very organic, packing lots of frames.  The visuals just have a very nice flow that fits the pace of the game perfectly.

The background music and the sound effects sound really nice and blend in with the gameplay. It doesn’t sound forced at all this contributes to a more entertaining gameplay experience overall.

This is exactly the type of UI I want to see in AR games, not half-baked textual menus, but one that fits the entire art-style of the game. I really liked when you rotate around the level, the mini-menu when you tap on the structures also rotates with you-so Smart!

I also liked the option to hide the shop UI element, which can be distracting sometimes when you get close to the map in AR. You can just click to hide it or click again on the shopping cart icon to reveal it again.

AR Experience

I have a mixed feeling about the AR experience in the ARKit part of Tower AR.  First of all, the game requires quite a lot of that most of it isn’t used at all by the game. Most of the areas are just water.

Water in the game Tower AR, screenshot
The water just takes so much space. Are they really necessary?

When I first saw it, it just felt that this game wasn’t designed from the ground up for AR, but just ported from the original normal mode. I couldn’t resize nor rotate the game either.

I first wanted to play the game on the table but it just spawned such a big level that I eventually played it on the table of the living room, and even then it felt too big. Now, you don’t really need to make a place for the game, it’s virtual after all. However, I love when the game can fit a smaller surface and it would be nice to have an option to resize it or maybe just cut out some of the water areas. The water looks nice and promote better atmosphere but doesn’t add anything to the gameplay itself. Usability very important in AR and I think this should be addressed.

Top-down view, Tower AR game screenshot
You can also play it like in top-down view in AR by just pointing your iPhone or iPad down at the map.

When I played it on the table, I felt quite annoyed needing to wake up from the couch in order to place a turret a bit further back on the path. So what went wrong exactly?

So what went wrong exactly? First of all, the game plays more like a board game, each level takes around 8 on average to complete, and the interactions are minimal. In such a game, I preferred sitting down than standing up.

It’s not a game like Meddling Martians AR where I needed and enjoyed running around the room capturing falling bombs. That ARKit game was built with Augmented Reality gameplay in mind and you can see the results. I have nothing against slow-paced games or board games. Some of them actually built specifically to take advantage of the AR unique features to create compelling AR experience.

A few good examples are Math Ninja AR or The Machines. Now those games are not a Tower Defense game, but it’s not about the genre, but the physical interaction within the game, the use of spatial interaction to enhance the gameplay experience.

I did enjoy moving around the level in AR with my iPad on the first level, but most of the time you just stare at the game and just wait to make some moves. I actually tried the ‘Normal’ mode and preferred playing it because it was more comfortable. An AR game should encourage players and make them enjoy the interactions. I just didn’t feel that Tower AR mode really brings anything special on top of the ‘Normal’ mode, in some ways, it was more of a hurdle than anything else. Maybe being able to reduce the map size or add more frequent interaction would make it more engaging and stimulate me to play it in AR.

I do recommend playing the game while sitting and not standing unless you are playing the game on a tall surface where you won’t need to flex your back.

Other those things that I’ve mentioned, the overall AR experience was very smooth, with some drop of frame rates as I quickly moved the iPad around (played with the iPad 9.7-inch 2017 model), but nothing significant. The game was able to detect surfaces really quickly and I was able to start the game without waiting too much time for it.

Summary

Let me start by saying that Tower AR is a fun tower defense game. but I don’t think it will appeal to players who want a challenging tower defense game You can clearly see that it was built with a lot of passion. It has beautiful visuals, animations, music, graphics and sound effects that blend beautifully together to create a fun tower defense gameplay experience.

I really think that being able to deploy my own character on the path and be able to interact with them (using touch gesture) could have enhanced the AR gameplay experience by a lot. I think the problem is that you only deploy structures, and those are just running in auto mode. Therefore and also considering the difficulty mode, which isn’t hard, the entire gameplay experience feels like it needs very little intervention and lack frequent interaction. Maybe ading more complex map regeneration in the quick mode can elevate the replay value.

That being said, the game isn’t difficult (at least it wasn’t for me) even on its highest difficulty. level The AR experience felt more like a port from the ‘Normal’ mode. The name of the game is Tower AR, so I wonder if the idea was to make an AR game first or vice versa. The name of the game was what got my attention in the first place. The interaction with the environment in AR was fun but lacks the impact that I’ve got from playing games that are designed from the ground up for that new medium.

The action doesn’t go out from the environment or blend with it. The level is so large that I was just seeing the map and not the physical space I was in. So with that in mind, it played like the ‘Normal’ mode, like without being able to physically roaming around the map. The thing is that because of the large size, the difficulty (I could just place two turrets and upgrade them to clean all enemies, in most levels) and the relatively slow-paced gameplay, I didn’t feel nor enjoyed playing it in any different way. Therefore the experience in AR wasn’t that different than the ‘Normal’ mode. I found myself actually feeling that it’s more comfortable to play it in that mode than bothering myself with the AR mode.

Due to the fact that this is an AR website, I obviously give more weight to the AR features than anything else. I do think that the foundations are really good, but some gameplay mechanics had to be adjusted to make the game more immersive to play in AR.  It just seems like a forced mode to please the AR fans out there. Overall, the game is fun and worth its price tag,  but if you are looking for a unique or/and challenging tower defense AR experience, I don’t think you’ll find it here.

You can download the game at the AppStore from this page.

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