I blame PopCap.
Just a few weeks ago, I was completely done with tower defense games. I had played my fill of the good ones, and more than my fill of the mediocre-to-bad ones, in search of that crackalicious buzz that comes from mowing down wave after wave of little creeps. After enough games with busted difficulty curves, or uninteresting tower upgrades, or just a lack of personality, the cravings subsided, and I was able to move on with my life, once again becoming a productive member of society (or maybe just going back to playing WoW).
Then stupid PopCap had to came along with its stupid Plants vs. Zombies and its stupid tower defense and its stupid typical insanely high levels of polish and its stupid totally great theme song, and I was right back on the horse.
The problem was that Plants vs. Zombies, despite its varied levels and minigames and challenge modes, is a pretty simplified tower defense game — a gateway game, if you will. So after devouring PvZ, I was back out on the street, looking for a new high to chase. And like the pusher man who knows exactly when you’re going to start fiending and is right there to supply you, GemCraft Chapter 0 showed up.
The new GemCraft is a lot like the old GemCraft, but the old GemCraft was so, so good: the gem combination system gives you a wide range of options for upgrades during play; the power curves are tuned so that on most levels there’s more than just one degenerate strategy for winning; and the skill tree gives the player yet another level of enhancements to experiment with. GemCraft Chapter 0 also adds a ridiculous amount of replay value to each level by adding different modes: sudden death, endurance, swarmers only, armored only, etc. The bonus modes often force you to rejigger your strategies and play the same map in different ways, minimizing that grindy feeling and making you come back for just. One. More. Game.
Tower defense games aren’t the sort of game that’s going to change the world and usher in a new age of interactive art and beauty; they are uncut, repetitive, lower-brain fun of the worst variety, in the pernicious tradition of Minesweeper, Solitare, Bejeweled, and their ilk. Good times!
(And yes, I realize that there is also a sequel to Desktop Tower Defense out there. Honestly, I’m afraid to touch it.)