Towers of Power – Spira Defence vs. Retro Defense

Spira Defence vs. Retro Defense
Release Dates: Spira Defence 7.31.08 – Retro Defense 12.14.08
Platform reviewed: Android phone

They call these two offerings casual games, but as for myself there is nothing casual about them. I am engrossed, entranced, obsessed. Maybe it has something to do with my OCD, maybe it has something to do with my age. I have no idea what all the hooks are, but I can feel that they are planted deeply.

Tower defense games are essentially strategy turn based games pitting you against wave after wave of alien invaders. Each defense tower type has specific characteristics and the invaders have differing types of attack ships and methods. These games are not fast paced nor reactionary, but this is not a bad thing. Not every game needs to be all about the twitch factor.

I am older than most gamers. I had several TV Pong games, my first platform was the Odyssey2 from Magnavox, I remember when Asteroids originally landed and I was there with a pocket full of quarters when arcades were invented. As these games incorporate elements of my early gaming life, I suppose that my age has something to do with my strong attraction to them. The world has moved on since the late 70’s and early 80’s and my gaming requirements have matured as well. Fortunately, games have evolved fantastically and even games with simple graphics and retro elements now have complex logic and addictive gameplay worthy of 2009’s higher gaming standards.

retro_defenseThe graphics in these two games are quite basic. Simple graphics are pretty much a requirement for reasonable gameplay on phones with limited processing power. Retro Defense does an admirable job in this department. Its simple and clear graphic elements have nice glowy lighting effects that add to the general ambiance and improve the user experience. This look is fantastic for retro arcade gaming as it harkens back to the early days of the video tube with its analog goodness and related pixel bleed.

Game play on both games is quite good mechanically, though the touch sensitivity needs to be improved in Spira Defence as it was hard to select certain items. While both games run quite well with no slowdowns (even when there are dozens of attackers on the screen at once), the variability of the maps in Retro Defense give it a solid edge in gameplay over Spira Defence. While these games are quite similar in concept, there are significant differences in the underlying gameplay and required strategies. Spira Defence, as its name implies, is based on a dynamic where invaders typically move around you in a spiral pattern getting ever closer to your one base with 5 tower positions in the middle of the screen. Retro Defense, on the other hand offers a more map based experience with dozens of possible tower locations and different maps requiring different strategies in order to successfully defend them. Invaders come in two fronts at once and move through the maps in different patterns. Retro Defense maps generally take about an hour to beat.

Spira Defence offers several gameplay features that Retro Defense lacks. Variable targeting allows you to specify whether a given tower attacks the closest target in range, the weakest or strongest target in range, or the fastest target in range. Retro Defense towers only target the “lead” invader in range. Spira Defence also provides a variety of wave based power-ups (such as smart bomb, money bonus, point bonus, range boost, damage boost, etc) as random drops. These allow the overall defensive strategy to be adjusted on a wave by wave basis according to the attacker type. Retro Defense on the other hand offers “range boost”, “power boost”, or “both boost” random drops. These power-ups take up critical tower real estate and only boost physically adjacent towers, but they are permanent pieces that perform their functions indefinitely.

spira-defenceBoth games are quite addicting with good replayability but again the edge goes to Retro Defense with its 15 maps and three difficulty levels. The main goal of Retro Defense is successfully defending 30 levels for any given map (even though the levels continue infinitely for gamers who want to keep playing for a personal best). With Spira Defence, your high score is the only goal and the waves just keep coming. The fact that Retro Defense gives you a specific “win” point makes it somewhat more satisfying to achieve that goal. Retro Defense also records the highest wave defended for each map, making it simple to compare your current game against your personal best.

With casual games, the ability to play in short sessions is critical. Both games offer the ability to pause a game at any point, and Spira Defence incorporates a basic checkpoint system. The natural break between successive waves makes a good natural pause point which makes for excellent gaming continuity when you need to pause a lot.

These games are basic arcade type games and feature basic arcade type sounds. Again in this category, Retro Defense really shines thanks to the use of actual retro arcade sound samples. It’s a small detail to be sure, but one that you do notice when playing the game. Other people notice as well. When I am playing Spira Defence, people have no idea what I am doing as the phone is just making basic chirping sounds. When I am playing Retro Defense, people smile and ask me what game I am playing. Further, each type of tower in Retro Defense makes a different sound when it operates. Lasers zap, bombs explode, and electric sparks crackle and pop. That variability is nice when the game is simple.

Here is the simple story line for both games: You have land to defend. Bad guys are trying to get past you to kill your leader. They do not attack your towers directly. They just come in wave after wave, relentless and determined to attack your population. You must build defenses on a tight budget and stop as many of them as you can. That’s it. There is no reading required, no dialog sessions, and no cut scenes between levels. Just basic arcade goodness and simplicity.

I really enjoy both of these games and I have to admit that I am investing far more hours playing than I ever expected. The map variability and fixed goals in Retro Defense make it quite a bit more fun for me personally (though in all honesty I realize that I could easily designate a similar arbitrary goal in Spira Defence) and as a result I find myself playing it far more often.

Graphics: Spira Defence 4 – Retro Defense 6 – Simple and workable for the phone platform. Classic arcade style with Retro Defense adding nice lighting effects into the mix.
Game Play/Mechanics: Retro Defense 8 – Spira Defence 5 – Pure strategy with no reading required. Gameplay is snappy and fluid. Spira Defence has some touch issues that need to be resolved.
Replayability: Spira Defence 5 – Retro Defense 9 – The 15 different maps and different enemy attack patterns in Retro Defense keep you coming back for more. Spira Defence has only one map and only two attack patterns.
Sound/Voice Acting: Retro Defense 8 – Spira Defence 2 – The classic arcade samples of Retro Defense trump the repetitive chirps of Spira Defence any day.
Storyline: Spira Defence 1 – Retro Defense 1 – Bad guys are coming. You must build defenses on a limited budget. An appropriately simple storyline for a simple classic arcade style game.
General Fun: Retro Defense 8 – Spira Defence 5 – It never ceases to amaze me how much a really good simple game can suck me in and steal my precious spare time. I can beat the top levels in Retro Defense in about an hour, which is a really good casual gaming session.

Overall Score: Spira Defense 4 – Retro Defense 7
Both games are available in the Android Marketplace and the iPhone Store.

4 thoughts on “Towers of Power – Spira Defence vs. Retro Defense

Add yours

  1. Regarding the difference in spelling: Defence is the British English spelling. Defense is the American English spelling.

    Ken: I agree with your assessment of Retro Defense, although I might have bumped it up to an 8 overall, especially considering that they added some maps recently and for the possibility of new maps in the future. This certainly increases it’s appeal for me as each map requires a slightly different strategy–especially the recently added “long distance” map, which requires a completely different strategy than all of the other maps. Great review.


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