Shad’O: Tower defense with a strong narrative

September 20, 2012

I am an unashamed fan of tower defense, and the little twists that each individual developer imparts on the genre. It’s fun to plan out moves and see a level defeated based on wits alone, instead of twitch skill with the mouse or being able to queue up all of the right magic spells in a preset amount of time. I like those games, as well, but it’s nice sometimes to sit back and relax while your towers do all the dirty work.

Shad’O both is and isn’t a by-the-numbers tower defense game, but I was compelled to keep playing, so the elements that were fresh were enough to keep me engaged throughout the bits that feel like lots of games that I have already played.

What Shad’O does right, it does very right. The narrative is fantastic, and the art is absolutely beautiful. At the beginning of the game, William wakes up unable to remember any of his life. As you work your way through the campaign and finish boss encounters, you will unlock still pictures that stitch together to give you an idea of the events that led up to William’s amnesia. William’s life is not a pleasant one, but I was compelled to keep going because there are more things to find out, and I genuinely wanted to know how his tale ended.

This all fits neatly into a tower defense game that takes place inside William’s dreams. The crystals or power cores or MacGuffins in this care are memory shards, and you have to keep the monsters from making off with them. Thankfully they walk along a preset path, and you can build towers to deter them. There are all the standard unit and tower types present. If you’ve played a tower defense game before then it won’t be long until you fall back on a single strategy using the same towers in the same arrangements over and over again.

Where Shad’O tries to mix things up a little bit is with fog of war. If your tower can’t fire at it, then you can’t see it. This serves to obscure both the enemy path, and their number until they come into range of your defenses. It also shows you where you’re able to build. If you can’t see it, you can’t build there. It’s a neat concept, and it made me a little sad when I encountered the mole unit because it was what I wanted, a unit that I hadn’t seen in other tower defense games, and what I didn’t want, an easy way to nullify the darkness.

Shad’O certainly is not for everybody. I know that the tower defense genre can be a difficult one to work in because if you don’t branch out then you’ve got a game that people feel like they’ve already played, and if you branch out too far than you don’t really have a tower defense game anymore. Shad’O‘s primary draw then, is its story. The narrative here may be the strongest I have ever encountered in a tower defense game, and if you have even a passing interest in the genre then the excellent story will make the otherwise predictable campaign worthwhile.

Pros: Excellent storytelling, beautiful graphics
Cons: By-the-numbers tower defense

Score: 4/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.