For a relatively new genre, Tower Defense games have become incredibly popular. Among the PS3 crowd this is in no small part thanks to Pixeljunk Monsters, but that hasn't stopped other developers trying their hand at competing. For Tower Defense fans variety can only be a good thing, but how do they stack up against each other. Savage Moon has a very different aesthetic to Pixeljunk Monsters, but is difference in gameplay worth the purchase?
The gameplay follows the same basic principles of every other Tower Defense game. Your base is at one of the level and beasties (in this case, Insectocytes) approach from the opposite end. It's your job to build a series of gun towers in their path to prevent them from reaching and damaging your base. Simple stuff, on paper. Not so easy in practice.
Savage Moon builds you up and, to begin with, lulls you into a false sense of security. The first few levels will train you up via an extensive tutorial, which is necessary because the game is slightly more complex than most in the genre. As usual you'll spend money on different sorts of towers and you'll receive money from each individual beasty you kill. The levels are laid out so that there are areas of rocky mountains, level ground and lava. Lava cannot be built upon and usually marks the Insectocytes' pathways. Towers can be built everywhere else but are much more protected when on large rocks.
In order to build a tower you'll need to have an available drop pod. You'll be given more as the waves progress throughout a given level. These limit how many towers you can place, though you're given so many that it's easy to forget the limitation even exists at times. Just like in PixelJunk Monsters you can research new towers via a very basic research tree. For the most part this gives you access to improved firepower such as laser towers, mine towers and mortar towers.
Researching also gives you access to non-lethal towers such as the repair tower (which repairs nearby towers), amp tower (increases the power and range of nearby towers) and block towers. The latter can be placed on the map to prevent the Insectocytes from passing. The number and variety of towers is quite large, giving the opportunity for multiple strategies depending on your playstyle.
Of course, the enemies are equally as varied. You'll have to manage flying monsters who will annoyingly fly in the most direct route possible to your base, as well as big armored beasts and large groups of small scuttlers. So relying on a single type of tower won't be the best course of action. Being able to level up your towers with your cash adds yet more variables for you to take into account.
The difficulty ramps up quite fast and Savage Moon really lives up to its name by the end. Even if you manage to complete every level there are also awards for surviving with a certain amount of health or with an appropriately high score. As a result there's plenty of longevity. Managed to get all those awards? Try your hand at Vengeance Mode, which pits you against an unlimited amount of waves on each of the levels and asks you how long you can survive.
Savage Moon's controls get the job done, but are sometimes found lacking. The left stick moves the cursor while the right stick rotates the camera. Unfortunately the levels are sometimes so large that it can be hard to keep your eye on everything at once. This is particularly true when flying Insectocytes appear, as there's no indication as to where they're coming from, so it's possible to focus on ground-based enemies and not notice a group of flying beasts until it's too late.
Menu navigation is fine, and after a brief learning process becomes quite intuitive. The tutorial section of the game does a good job of teaching you where everything is and what it does, though we'd prefer if the enemy and tower stats had written descriptions rather than symbols. It's sometimes quite difficult to tell what means what in the middle of a skirmish.
Graphically Savage Moon looks good, though it's nothing to write home about. Your base looks sufficiently gritty and industrial and the environment looks sufficiently barren and alien. Insectocytes are generally well detailed, creepy critters. Though there are a few creatures that don't quite live up to the others. As far as the graphics go, though, the towers are the most impressive looking aspect of the game.
In particular, the level up animations look excellent. Towers go through a complete transformation, extending their gun barrels, folding in on themselves, expanding out. By the time a tower reaches the highest level it looks completely different and seeing these evolutions is half the fun at times.
At the start of each wave the viewpoint will change to that of one of your towers' CCTV cameras as the Insectocytes emerge from their lairs. While this looks great, it can sometimes get in the way of the game as this is precious tower building/upgrading time that is taken away from you. Thankfully there's an option to turn this off.
Savage Moon's music is appropriate, though forgettable. The sound effects are, as you can imagine, repetitive. You'll hear the same Insectocyte cries, gun fire and laser blasts over and over again. It does the job, but we don't blame you if you put the game on mute and stick some of your own music on. This game would benefit greatly from custom soundtracks.
If you're into Tower Defense titles this is definitely one that you can safely put your money towards. It's not the best of its kind, but it tries some new things and the majority of them are successful. There's also a lot of game here and it does get pretty tough. If you're new to the genre, we suggest trying out PixelJunk Monsters for a more charming introduction to the gameplay mechanics.