Tower defense is a genre that has taken off in recent years. Titles like Savage Moon, Comet Crash, and Plants Vs. Zombies all manage to stand on their own as full titles instead of add-ons for RTS titles. Defense Grid: The Awakening is the newest console addition to the tower defense library (it is also available on PC). As is common in tower defense games, Defense Grid is much more about gameplay than story. With ten tower types, three levels per tower, and enemy pathing that varies depending on your tower placement Defense Grid can afford to skimp on the narrative.
You will start with access to only one type of tower, the gun tower. This is your most basic unit, and it can attack both ground and air units. As the game progresses your AI companion, a man with a British accent who was downloaded in the titular defense grid, will find or create new tower types and upgrade abilities. After the first few levels you will need to decide between gun, inferno, laser, temporal (slow), tesla (lightning), missile (anti-air), command (extra money), cannon, concussion, and meteor. Each tower type serves a specific purpose and has trade-offs associated with it. Tesla towers, for example, gain power as they charge so they make a good exit defense on maps where the enemies have separate entry and exit points. Gun towers are also cheap enough to be useful in creating mazes for the enemies to traverse. Enemy type also factors into tower selection. Gun tower are good for taking down shields, while laser towers are good for dealing with fast enemies.
In addition to a decent-length campaign, Defense Grid also has numerous challenge modes for all levels save the tutorial. There are the standard, more/harder enemies variants, but things like Poison Core in which you have only one power core that is lethal if moving back to its base instead of 24 benign cores spice things up. Many levels also feature a practice mode in which resources are fixed at 20,000. This gives players the chance to fine tune their strategies for the trickier maps. Each campaign level and challenge variant also features a medal system. Points are scored based on sale (not purchase) value of towers, remaining resources, and remaining power cores. In order to attain anything better than bronze you will need to protect all of your cores and win the level with the fewest number of towers possible. The difference between silver and gold for me on an early mission was a level 1 laser tower that turned out to be unnecessary. This medal system will keep players coming back and altering their strategies in order to get the next reward and see just how efficient they can be.
Defense Grid: The Awakening is what retail tower defense titles should be. It is fun, deep, and it has a good amount of replay value built-in. The concept is easy to grasp, but perfecting its execution will take even seasoned tower defense pros a while to figure out. In a genre where more units and more upgrades is typically regarded as better it is refreshing to see one place value on something else (bang for your buck) for a change.
Plays Like: Flash Element TD, Desktop Tower Defense
Pros: Good selection of towers, great selection of play types, rewarding medal system
Cons: Devilishly hard on later levels
ESRB: E10+ for fantasy violence and mild language – the enemies are robots who explode upon death – if your kid can play without being frustrated then Defense Grid is fine.