Crystal Defenders (Review)

“A surprisingly pleasantly tower defense game that can roll with the best of them.”

It’s difficult for any tower defense game aspiring to be the “next big thing” to really make it on the scene anymore thanks to PopCap’s Plants vs Zombies. Crystal Defenders, by Square-Enix, is one of those rare tower defense games that is not only very enjoyable, but is good enough to challenge the behemoth that is Plants vs Zombies.

Crystal Defenders is a Final Fantasy themed tower defense game that takes place on fairly large maps which require the player to place various different units down to deter the oncoming waves of monsters. The objective is to prevent the monsters from reaching your crystals at the end of the path. Each map is essentially just a long road that the monsters walk. They never attack you directly, but the threat of them snatching your crystals is always very real. If you lose all twenty crystals, it’s game over.

The selection of units appears limited when you first play, but you quickly get used to it. There are six classes to choose from most of the time and the most common are soldier, black mage, archer, white monk, thief, and time mage. Soldiers are the brute force of your army and essentially just hit hard – really hard! Black mages thrust fire spells at oncoming monsters and, along with the long range archers, are able to hit airborne monsters. White monks are average fighters who do not hit as hard as soldiers, but they have the ability to hit several monsters at once. Thieves cannot attack, but if a monster dies within their line of sight, you will get a huge cash bonus. Time mages, of course, possess weak attacks and the ability to slow monsters down.

There are various summons as well, each consuming five crystals when called, making them very risky to use. One summon, Phoenix, pumps up the attack and abilities of your army for the duration of the attack wave, while the Ramuh summon unleashes a devastating lightning attack across the entire map that will deliver lethal damage to all living monsters. Both sound very useful but, as I said, they consume five crystals when summoned. The whole point of the game is to protect the crystals, so really the only time to use one of these summons is when you believe that five or more monsters will reach the end, since most monsters steal one crystal each.

With each kill, you are awarded gold which goes towards leveling up your units. Once you are several waves in, it becomes apparent that the key to success isn’t placing many units but leveling up the ones you have already deployed instead.

The gameplay is simple and never gets too complicated, but it is extremely strategic and, when you clear a wave of monsters that seems particularly difficult or frustrating, you get a wonderful sense of accomplishment. Winning in Crystal Defenders really does feel extremely rewarding due to it’s ruthless nature, which is much more than I can say for the casual-friendly Plants vs Zombies.

The graphics are pretty basic and look like late PS1 or early PS2 graphics. The entire map and all units are 2D sprites, but since this is Square-Enix you just know that the graphics have to be at the very least decent looking. They’re not overglorified, but they do the job and are in some ways mildly cute.

Crystal Defenders’ music is very impressive, though. It sounds a lot like the music from Final Fantasy Tactics, which is no bad thing at all. The music may seem like a bit too much for a tower defense game at times, but that does not hurt the game or the music at all. Crystal Defenders is a real joy to listen to, believe me.

Overall, Crystal Defenders is a fantastic tower defense game and I feel that it is impossible for me to choose between this and Plants vs Zombies as the better tower defense game. If you’re a fan of old school tower defense games, or like Plants vs Zombies but want something a little rougher, then this is the game for you.

Crystal Defenders is available on the 360, PSP, Playstation 3, Wii, and most mobile phones. Since pretty much everyone owns at least one of those platforms, there really is no excuse to miss this game if tower defense is your thing. Check it out.

Final Score

8.6/10

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Super Mario World (SNES, 1990)

INFO: My “Retro Vault” reviews are not scored. Instead, I just talk about why I have fond memories of whichever game I’m writing about at the time. Generally, I won’t pick out any bad games for the Retro Vault feature, so scoring them is essentially useless anyway. Enjoy the read.

I have to apologize to fans of Mario 64 and Mario Galaxy, because those games cannot stand up to the 16 bit behemoth that is Super Mario World. 3D Mario games are great and all, but 2D platforming, where Mario’s roots are, is also where he shines his best.

I remember when I was only six or seven years old, and I was visiting a friend’s house for a few hours. When I had walked in, I was greeted by what sounded like a very exciting video game. Back then, there was no internet and most people found out about games by word of mouth. Also, the Super Nintendo had only been recently launched, so a lot of people didn’t yet know about it. So, what was the first thing I saw when I rounded the corner and peered at their living room television? Why, it was Mario looking better than I had ever seen before! And he was involved in a fight with Bowser, and the graphics just blew my mind. Everything about this unknown Mario game captivated me. I found myself not caring much about the mysterious console that it was running on, instead only caring about one thing. Mario.

After I had gone home, I anxiously told my brother about what I had seen. It’s funny, because I vaguely remember him not believing me. However, after he had seen it for himself, a Super Nintendo wasn’t long showing up in our home which resulted in our bulky old NES being pushed aside. It was at this time that I could finally sit down and play Super Mario World. No, not play it… Bond with it, and love it.

Super Mario World is really something special. These days, those who are relatively new to gaming are spoiled when a new generation of consoles arrives. My first transition into a new generation was going from 8 bit to 16 bit, and this was a colossal leap at the time. Everything was just so much better by leaps and bounds, and this included Mario. This SNES launch title was better than any of his NES adventures by a gigantic margin. Not even the fantastic Super Mario Brothers 3 could compare!

So what was so great about Super Mario World? And why is it still so great? Well, Super Mario World took the superb gameplay formula from Mario 3 and did one simple thing – they perfected it. Mario World isn’t made great from the way it looks or sounds, no. Incredibly friendly and responsive controls, imaginative enemies and obstacles, and one of the most balanced difficulty curves I’ve ever experienced in a game are what makes Mario World what it is to me, and that’s the best platformer ever made.

Mario World probably doesn’t have as many levels as Mario 3, but the game makes up for that by making it’s levels some of the finest ever in a 2D video game. There are many superb challenges and obstacles that Mario must overcome, and the amount of secrets that take both creative thinking and skill to reach astounds me even to this day.

This was also the first game to feature one of the most iconic Mario sidekicks ever, and that is Yoshi. The green dinosaur has become very popular over time and certainly has his own loyal fanbase. Nintendo has not introduced a character as beloved as Yoshi since Mario and Luigi themselves. The later games try to make us fall in love with new characters, such as Bowser Jr, but the charm just isn’t the same anymore. Yoshi became well loved for being the most sought after “power up” in Mario World. He could breathe fire, fly, ground pound, and eat just about anything that wasn’t bolted down to the ground. Obtaining Yoshi also instilled a sense of confidence in players, since Yoshi made it far more difficult for our plumber friend to bite the dust. Yoshi allowed even the not-so-skilled players to get through some of the harder levels, which was a great thing.

Super Mario World had loads of charm. The music is only surpassed by the tunes in the original Super Mario Brothers in my opinion, but the graphics are the most charismatic out of all Mario platformers. The NES titles cannot compare, nor can the woefully unimpressive New Super Mario Brothers on the DS. I can’t speak for the latest Wii incarnation, but it doesn’t look that much better than what I played on the DS.

Considering that this game was a Super Nintendo launch title, it’s stunning that the graphics are as good as they happen to be. Many Super Nintendo games that came along a few years later couldn’t even look as charming as Super Mario World. This is evidence that Nintendo went the extra mile to make this beloved game not only play better than the competition, but also look it in some instances. Of course some Super Nintendo platformers such as Donkey Kong Country look better from a plain graphics perspective, but the DKC franchise doesn’t have nearly as much charm or charisma. Super Mario World had it all and then some. The koopas, thwomps, boos, various fish, and of course the Koopa Kids, Mario World had loveable style oozing out of every pore.

Super Mario World is my second favourite Super Nintendo game, and one of my favourite games of all time. This game is, purely and simple, Mario at his best. Try to hate this game I dare you, because you’ll find it hard to do so when you can’t even put your controller down.

Nintendo, thank you. This game truly is the epitome of 2D platforming.