These days, certain gaming genres are feeling a bit, well... oversaturated. Blame what one will, from the looming specter of the "casual gaming" wave or merely being spoiled for choice - like an overplayed song on the radio, one just gets sick of hearing about new titles promising a new spin on an already hackneyed premise.
Even styles I enjoy, such as endless runners or dual stick shooters, can become tiresome, which speaks to how I feel when I hear of a new tower defense game. The mere passing of the words across my screen usually induce a groan, a yawn, or both. "Great," I think to myself, "I just CAN'T WAIT to see these little aliens marching across my screen for an hour whilst my turrets spew paper bullets at them and I play with my smartphone to alleviate the boredom! Joy!" Ugh.
There is one game in the genre, however, that I've played for more than a few minutes, and, dare I say, truly enjoyed - and that is A.R.C.S.
Created by the 16-bit pixel-art focused studio Retromite (a dynamic duo comprised of programmer Gregg Williams and artist Kawe Weissi-Kadeh), A.R.C.S. touts itself as a new spin on the castle defense formula. From the moment the first few notes of the scrumptious soundtrack tickled my ears and the beautiful 90's era sprites filled my screen, I knew I had something special on my hands - at least from a design standpoint. Think of playing a castle defense flash game through Tyrian and 1990's cracktro tinted glasses, and you'll get the picture.
For the record, I say "flash game" because that's how it originally started - although a desktop version is now available which offers a full screen, ad-free experience (and a name-your-own-price purchase model). I personally loath playing flash games in ad-ridden tiny screens, so the desktop version was a blessing. This game screams for full screen.
However, true to its roots, this is a bite size gaming experience that's easy to pick up. While there is a plot (aliens invading the city, you have to escape, you know the drill) the focus is on blast-blast-blasting said aliens with your trusty mech and its awesome weaponry. This is accomplished through simple mouse control, and is where the game truly shines.
See, rather than placing a "tower" and waiting (hoping?) all the enemies are felled by its pea-shooter blasts, YOU get to do the shooting, directly - making this feel much more like an arcade title than a defense title, at least in the beginning. Soon, as commander of your forces, you'll find yourself carefully selecting upgrades in the shop from wave to wave, either that fit your individual playing style or that are well suited to the next (growing) wave of enemies. For example, I vastly preferred the heavy weapons, allowing me to obliterate the tank-type enemies with ease before they could level my base. Players are left juggling an arsenal of weapons, all with different strengths and effective against certain enemies, as well as varied reload times - requiring a surprising amount of planning and thought to master.
A.R.C.S. quickly draws you in with this clever yet easy to digest combination of super-simple gameplay and underlying, deeper strategy - I never even saw certain weapons at all during my playthough, and your choices from stage to stage will have a significant impact on your ability to survive. If I have any gripes about A.R.C.S., it's that it spits you out almost as quickly as you're sucked in; I was only beginning to feel my stride when I defeated the final boss, and was left very much with a "was that it?" kind of feeling. The art and soundtrack create a really cohesive atmosphere, the destruction is satisfying and direct, and the retro appeal is fantastic. I just wish there was more of it, and the potential exists.
Definitely worth a purchase, especially at your own price, but remain aware this is an experience that ends quickly and leaves you wanting more. Perhaps in a sequel, we'll see an endless survival mode?
Play the flash version online here (at the BigDino website).
Buy the premium desktop version here (from the Retromite website).