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Defend Your Life (PC) artwork

Defend Your Life (PC) review

"Defend Your Life is worth your time, assuming you're not immune to the charms of tower defense."

I'm not 100% certain what it is that makes me enjoy the tower defense genre as much as I do, but whatever that something is, Defend Your Life has it.

The premise is that viruses and disease are attacking a human body, which looks like it has been through hell when you see it functioning as the level selection hub. There's a huge gash in the right knee, plus you can see the exposed lungs and intestine and such.

Defend Your Life (PC) image

When you select a level, you find yourself inside the body that was just pictured, where there is a winding path leading from one side of the screen to the other. Various enemies emerge and march along this path. They have names like Angina and Cholesterol, and their goal is to reach an exit area so they can inflict damage. However, you're able to (hopefully) put an end to that lethal procession by mobilizing the body's defense mechanisms. In other words, you are the immune system.

Your mission starts in the Pharynx, where the inbound threat is minimal. A simple path leads from the upper left side of the screen to its lower right portion, and you can position Bombard structures that fire weak cannon shots. They're just powerful enough to disable the foes you face, particularly as the stage progresses and you gain enough oxygen (the game's equivalent of energy or resources) to build additional structures. That's all there is to it, and the developers take advantage of that simplicity as they offer tutorial tips that capably walk players through the various elements of the game.

Once you clear a given stage, another one appears in an adjacent location. You can also revisit the one you just finished to earn additional in-game currency, as well as tablets. Stages have Easy, Medium and Hard settings, each with additional restrictions. The first stage features heavier enemy resistance when you attempt it a second time, for instance, and you can allow fewer adversaries to reach their goal before failing.

Defend Your Life (PC) image

Tablets are awarded the first time you clear a stage on a particular difficulty setting. You can use those tablets to purchase upgrades in a variety of categories. My favorites increase the damage inflicted by towers, or generate additional currency, but you're also able to purchase enhancements to special abilities. Those abilities are timed, with a cooling period that follows each use. One lets you electrocute all enemy waves currently on-screen. Another injects a single tower with adrenaline so that it briefly fires at a rapid rate. And there's also a bomb that generates a local blast, to perhaps deal a killing blow to an especially tough adversary.

As the game progresses, it quickly grows more difficult. You won't last long without taking advantage of the available improvements, which means revisiting some stages. Any currency you earn by clearing a stage can be spent to purchase usable special items at the in-game shop. For instance, you might decide to bring along an Adrenaline Addiction syringe to apply a surge of adrenaline to all structures, or some quick hit points so that you can allow more foes to sneak through without failing. However, it's a bad idea to spend too much currency on such items, because then you can't unlock new heroes.

Heroes are little characters that you can order around the map, like miniature generals. They serve as front line defense, or as a goaltender of sorts. They level up after defeating enough invading enemies, and you can increase their health, speed and attack power. They are truly powerful allies, but you'll have to spend a lot to gain access to the best of them. There are only 18 stages in all (counting two bonus areas), which unfortunately means that you'll have to cover familiar ground a few times if you want to access all of your potential tools.

Defend Your Life (PC) image

As I noted, the game grows increasingly difficult as you clear stages. Things ramp up pretty quickly, actually, and the levels soon require you to focus on quite a lot. Foes might take multiple routes as they race toward the exit, so you have to position towers carefully to maximize their efficiency. Those towers can also be upgraded extensively, at great cost, so you often have to ask yourself what the best use is for your available oxygen. Do you throw up a bunch of silos that will fire weak missiles, or do you focus on improving just the one so that its shells unleash epic damage? There's usually no single right answer, so you get to experiment and find the methods that work best for you. However, I can tell you from experience that there also are plenty of wrong answers. I failed some of the later levels more times than I like to admit, particularly when I ran through on the harder versions.

Defend Your Life appears to have been developed first for mobile devices. When you fire it up, you can choose from a whole bunch of display settings, and choose between full-screen and a windowed mode. Don't make the mistake of trying windowed mode with your maximum resolution set, though, or you'll find that it doesn't all quite fit (a window is simply thrown around whatever resolution you choose). In-game, there are buttons and hint prompts that offer not particularly helpful advice about tapping the screen or swiping with your finger, but a mouse and keyboard honestly work just fine. You can also gain collectible cards when you play on Steam, and there are 20 achievements to should keep you busy for quite a while.

Defend Your Life (PC) image

I wish that Defend Your Life had more levels, because the selection that is available doesn't quite deliver enough unique challenges to keep me totally engaged. I did wind up playing it for more than 20 hours, however, so maybe I'm complaining over nothing. Some of the stages can take a really long time to clear, unless you speed things up when you have everything well in hand, and then you'll fail just short of the end and find that you wasted 20 minutes without gaining anything but some experience points for your hero character. I'm not sure how well the game would have worked as a mobile title, since it doesn't seem particularly well suited to 5-minute sessions (though you can pause whenever you like), so I'm glad I wound up playing it on my desktop.

If you enjoy traditional tower defense titles, Defend Your Life comes highly recommended in spite of its overall lack of variety. The difficulty builds at a natural pace, starting out easy enough that anyone can get hooked and leveling out just this side of impossible. Don't play the game unless you're ready to lose a few hours to the addiction that is likely to result, but if you're looking for a terrific time killer, this one does the job quite nicely.


honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (May 30, 2016)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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EmP posted June 07, 2016:

There's a huge gash in the right knee

Sound's like a typical after-football Saturday afternoon to me.

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