Defender boasts a simple enough concept: you’ve been tasked with the defence of a walled city against waves of assailants, using a bow and a seemingly endless supply of arrows. Should any monster reach your wall, they’ll begin bashing it down. If your city walls are destroyed, then it’s time to restart the level and try again. Importantly you keep any coins you’ve made in your attempt, so you can still improve your defences even when you lose. It’s rarely game over, merely a set back and a little frustration.

You’re not limited to just arrows; to aid you in your plight you can employ spells to wipe out several enemies at once. Magic is particularly essential when it comes to the boss fights – but we won’t give too much away about those, other than completing a boss without magic is nigh-on impossible. There are three types of magic at your disposal – Fire, Ice and Lightning and each one can be upgraded as you play; although unlike the other upgrades, improving magic costs crystals, and these are only awarded for completing levels – so buy carefully.

Coins you earn can be spent on upgrading your bow or crossbow’s abilities – initially to do more damage or increase the firing rate, although later you can choose to push back enemies, improve the chance of fatally wounding your foes or eventually firing multiple arrows at once. You can also upgrade the City Wall, which essentially gives you more life, or you can improve your Magic Tower – giving you more mana for your spells. Occasionally you’ll also win new bows, that improve your chances against foes that have increasingly tougher armour.

This is a game that only really makes sense on a tablet, as choosing where to fire is controlled by your finger. Prod a creature, or piece of ground, and you’’ll unleash a salvo of arrows at that point. Swiping around the screen will produce a pleasing arc of pointy death too, that also happens to help stave off the oncoming assault. As enemies get closer to your wall, your hand can often obscure any incoming waves, but this just adds to the tension. Juggling this with dropping spells on the legions of doom can be tricky too, although again, this just adds to the tension. Overall it’s a good idea, well implemented.

The graphics in DroidHen’s little title are are excellent. There may be a limited number of baddies, but they’ve been lovingly animated with plenty of character. The painted backgrounds are beautiful, as are the icons for the spells, upgrades and bows. The music is somewhat unremarkable, and the sound effects can be a little grating, but the game loses very little when played with the sound muted.

One frustration is that you don’t ever feel that you’ve really overpowered, and that’s even after you’ve upgraded your bow, towers, mana-pool or spells. Sure, you can take out a couple of levels worth of monsters with 100% of your wall’s life remaining and reap the healthy load of coins for doing so, but you always know there’s another boss level looming which will bring you to your knees. And some of these bosses simply feel unfair, until that is you unlock the next upgrade that pushes you over the edge and means you’re doing enough to damage to win through.

Defender is free. Free to download and free to play. There are small adverts, but these are never intrusive. There is the option of micropayments though. There’s the ever-present temptation to skip much of the frustration of boss levels by augmenting your crystal and coin levels via the integrated shop – offering anything from 8,000 coins to (at $1.99 a pop) up to 270 crystals (costing you a fairly hefty $14.99). You don’t have to buy these and the value you get from doing so is limited (especially on the later levels where coins flow fairly easily), but we can certainly see the appeal. You can only get those all-important crystals from completing levels, so there can come a point where you simply don’t feel you can get enough damage out to keep going, which is exactly when you credit card will begin to itch.

Overall, Defender has become something of a favourite for us here on EAT. It’s a great game that benefits from the space afforded by a large tablet screen for focusing fire on your enemies and for showing off the game’s beautiful artwork. We feel the core gameplay does need some tweaking to make it a real classic and stop it from being a relentless assault, but it’s certainly addictive – and that’s always a good sign that it’s a game that’s doing something right. Not perfect, but perfectly good fun for zero cash.

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