Spice Bandits - The Best TD Game Ever?
Written by Colby Thursday, 23 February 2012 06:00
The tower defense genre has almost reached as much of a saturation point as the modern first person shooter has. However, the development studio On-5 has set themselves a pretty lofty goal with Spice Bandits (formerly known as Spice Invaders), "either make this game the best in its genre or just not do it at all." With over 50 different towers and nearly 60 maps, Spice Bandits is definitely chock full of content, but does that make it the best tower defense game available for your mobile device?
The basic premise of Spice Bandits is pretty much the same as with any other tower defense game; place towers in strategic locations around a base or two and wait and watch as wave after wave of creeps are slaughtered on the battlefield. Well at least that's how a TD enthusiast looks at it. The twist as far as setting is concerned is that this time you are the aliens who have to come to earth in search of the precious spice and humans play the role of creeps. Don't be confused by the colorful cartoony art style, this is not a game for children, in fact it was very challenging for me, even as one who has survived more waves than most.
The basic structure leaves nothing to be desired. Beginning on the North American continent, you are assigned places to fend off the humans. Sometimes towers can be placed in a way that creates a maze leading towards the base, whereas other times that's not really an option. Besides just towers, there are also a series of special powers at your command. Disco magic will send creeps wandering off in random directions or mines that instantly incapacitate the first creep to touch. Several other powers can also be unlocked and used, but once the initial supply is gone buying more costs spice. Since that same spice could be used to permanently unlock towers, buying powers feels like a waste. Completing one map opens up the next and occasionally opens up new game types on already unlocked locations. Initially the game is heavy in the standard mode and sudden death which is exactly what it sounds like, one creep reaches the base and it's game over. After initially beating the map it's very satisfying to return to it and master it, trying to survive with all bases intact sending all waves early. Since certain level requirements must be met before passing between continents, you will need to return to already played maps and grind. While replaying maps for leisure is fun, being forced to go through the motions several times even though your towers are overpowered and the xp isn't rewarding isn't that great. This is by far the most frustrating part as it plays right into the evil freemium model. Either spend precious time leveling or go to the in game store and purchase enough spice to buy passage. I would rather pay a couple bucks up front and have a smoother leveling and progression experience.
Spice Bandits is by far one of the deepest TD games I've ever played for two reasons, the sheer volume of content and the persistent upgrade and unlock systems. You earn xp for each individual creep, for completing levels, and for earning medals. Earning medals can be done by reaching certain goals like building 500 machine gun towers for your career, or sending every wave in an level early. Each time you level up, which unfortunately doesn't include that all-so-satisfying level up sound effect from Modern Warfare, a certain amount of spice and upgrade points are awarded. Just completing a level also earns you a small amount of spice; three units for the first time and one unit for every time thereafter. Also, winning a map in the online versus mode awards you more spice than just finishing single player.
Spice and upgrade points each have their own separate uses. Spice is used to unlock new towers, buy the one time use weapons, or to unlock the level checks between continents. I found it very advantageous to specialize in one or two tower types, because the higher level one causes a whole lot more spice than I'm willing to grind for. Enabling push notifications means that you will receive updates every time one of the tower types goes on a 50% discount, an incentive I jumped at more than once. Upgrade points, also awarded upon leveling up, are used to advance certain perks such as increasing damage of bullet towers or decreasing the cost of the most advanced level of turrets. Again, invest wisely as the perks are costly and getting the necessary points will take either a whole JRPG's worth of grinding or a toll on your pocketbook. If you find yourself enjoying Spice Bandits, I'd recommend buying one of the bigger packs of spice to help avoid a lot of frustration.
Without a doubt, Spice Bandits is one the most polished TD games on the app store. It is visually beautiful, has a very deep metagame, and gives the satisfaction of seeing wave after wave of creeps fall. The freemium model, however, acts as a double edged sword, allowing you to get a free hit, but making advancing through the campaign frustrating if you don't invest the cash.