Neptune Studios’ first release, 7 Cities TD is a new kid on the crowded tower defense block and it brings an arsenal of innovations with it. 7 Cities does not reinvent the ballista but does breathe refinement into a genre that is losing it on the iPhone.
Let’s take a look at 7 Cities’ feature list.
• 7 unique hand-drawn maps ranging in difficulty and design
• 2 game modes: Campaign and Survival
• 7 towers: each with an unique look and abilities
• Towers can be upgraded without limit
• Towers can gain experience and level up to acquire new skills
• 12 individual tower skills that can be unlocked by playing through the Campaign
• A wide variety of enemies: from small scout ships to gigantic creatures of the deep seas
• High-quality 2D graphics, animations
• Fully dynamic particle systems featuring fire, smoke, ice, and fireworks!
• Original music and sound effects (or you can listen to your own iPod music while playing)
• Camera pan & zoom
• Save & load any time
• Online high score submission & ranking
If you are unsure about the Tower Defense genre, please check out wikipedia’s tower defense page for more information.
Presentation and Gameplay
Coming from the highly addictive TapDefense and comedic Zombie Attack! my expectations were hoisted high for 7 Cities TD. In their own ways, they are brillinat. However, as much as I love those titles, I found that both lack an important aspect of gaming: polish.
X Marks the Spot
Before you start a campaign in 7 Cities, you are are shown a map that consists of seven ‘x’ marks. Each must be protected in sequence and is unlocked only after you successfully protect the city before it. 7 Cities is unique in that rather than playing on land only, you take a defensive stance along the banks of seven mighty rivers. Thus, all enemies are either water creatures or boats that you must drown or swamp with missiles, electricity and other weapons.
In keeping with the watery theme, you will find at your destructive mercy great turtles, fish, worms and boats of varying sizes, speeds and shapes. Each level contains a set number of waves, a breather and at least one boss. The pacing is great as are the death cries and throes of your enemies.
A Jewel to Behold, me Matey!
One of 7 Cities’ most evident areas of polish is its graphics. It boasts lovely hand-drawn maps and meticulously rendered isometric enemies all of which can be seen up close thanks to the zoom function. One of the features listed is the particle system which in short, makes killing an entrancing enterprise. Smoke, flames, lightning and strange swirling clouds hover over enemies or shoot from your towers and even on the small screen, their effects are stunning.
There can be no second opinion: 7 Cities is a benchmark for graphics in the tower defense genre on the iPhone.
Thar’ She blows
Neptune Studios also paid time and attention to creating a wonderful musical score. It is upbeat, varied and has one other trick up its sleeve: if you have had enough of their creativity, you can pop in your Amy Grant versus Nickelback Britney Spears mashup and rock out whilst playing. Sound effects too can be turned off but don’t need to be: nothing beats the sound of stinking sinking pirate ship.
The in-game menu system and the main menu are in accordance to the theme appropriately laid out on scrolls and tattered books. At any time during gameplay, you can save, restart a mission and change sound options. Unlike TapDefense, the research options are not accessible during gameplay but only from the game menu.
Each tower has experience thresholds that when crossed will allow upgrades. You are awarded three types of gems: red, yellow and blue. When you are awarded a blue gem, you can add it to your tower to increase a firepower multiplier.
Yellow gems can be used to implement your research efforts into the towers. They are awarded once your tower reaches one of many experience thresholds and generally implement firepower increases, missile types upgrades and accumulative damage counters. There are many other choices but I will leave that to you to discover.
Be careful which towers you place your gems into. If you tap a tower, it will show you what level it is at, how many kills it has heaped up and its damage metre. If you spend your blue gems on a tower that has very few skillz that killz, you will have wasted precious firepower. Spend them wisely!
Finally, after completing a map, you will receive red gems. They are given for the researching of new towers and tower upgrades that are applied in-game by the yellow and blue gems. You can access new research options after completing a level in the main menu submenu called ‘Unlock Skills’.
This is a new feature in the Tower Defense Genre on the iPhone. It is not a gimmicky toy added to give iPhone feature clout. In-game battle maps are littered with the bodies of the dying, shining towers, smoky shadows and burning entrails. With so much detail, it is often hard to place or upgrade the tower you want. The zoom feature (enacted by the iPhone OS spread to zoom in and pinch to zoom out) is indispensable. Also helpful is a grid on/off switch in the upper right hand corner near the menu buton. Once depressed, it will display a grid of hexagons showing exactly where you can place towers.
You will not see my name on the chart but I am training for a spot somewhere in the top million. After completing a level, your score will be written to your iPod or iPhone and you have the option to add it to the global network. All I can say about this feature is: how do those top scorers do it? My best score yet is a meagre 46 000 or so and I see scores in the hundreds of thousands. Very well done comrades, and Neptune Studios: great feature.
The Pirate Eye-Patch: What needs work
The accidental selling of towers is not as acute a problem as in TapDefense but at various times, I have been frustrated by it. It would be nice to see a confirmation button on towers that can be turned off or on via a switch in the options menu.
I have seen no use for the accelerometer in 7 Cities. Considering the intelligent use of scrolling and excellent menu system it is not necessary to make a hit iPhone game but there may be implementations of it that would bring even deeper, more satisfying gameplay into 7 Cities TD.
***The following bugs are all repeatable when my ipod has been synced with iTunes and not powered down for days. I am unsure of how much a problem of the game it is or how much of the firmware’s fault it is. Needless to say, crashes are frustrating***
After finalising all research and returning to play previously beaten levels again, 7 Cities will crash to the summerboard following the completion of a level. The bug either strikes after I submit my score to the network or the next time I enter a map.
I have also discovered that when playing my music rather than the in game score, the app will crash after placing the first tower onto a new map. While frustrating and time consuming, I am confident these bugs will be squashed by Neptune Studios in short time. No application has been without bugs, even my beloved Ultima 7.
I am awarding 7 Cities TD a kiss rating. Despite a couple of bugs, I have not played as polished nor well thought out original title on the iPhone. Tower Defense fans should not hesitate to fire away. At 4.99$, it is an easy board. Excellent work.