Castle Creeps TD (iOS) review
"Castle Creeps TD has a bit of a gold problem, but otherwise, there's not much to complain about."
I have been playing Castle Creeps TD almost daily for the better part of two years, since it launched on iOS in January of 2017. There were several points along the way when I said "I'm pretty much done now." But this time, I really mean it.
The "TD" in Castle Creeps TD stands for "tower defense." If you know much about my taste in games, you know I love the stuffing out of those. I can devote hours of my life to them, day after day, for reasons I don't even understand myself. Eventually, I get bored with one of them, but there are always dozens more to choose from. This particular one just happened to be free-to-play.
One of my favorite tower defense games in recent years was the enormously popular Kingdom Rush, which Castle Creeps TD definitely resembles. As in that other game, you place towers around a map and then summon the hordes, which will try to survive your gauntlet and reach points you don't want them to reach along edges of the map. You can upgrade any towers you place once to improve their general efficacy, and from there you can choose enhancements that are more specialized but also potentially more lethal. For example, you might modify your bow towers so they fire charges that detonate to destroy a group of enemies, or instead enhance them in a way that dramatically increases their rate of fire.
There actually are only four distinct tower types available--cannon, bow, infantry and magic--but that works out fine because the maps are fiendishly designed. The "creeps" often have multiple points of entry and egress, and the paths they follow are winding. Some of them even include warp portals. So you have to really think hard about how to spend the points you gain from each kill, in order to build new towers where they will do the most good. And of course, even after you build a tower, you have to periodically upgrade it sensibly as enemy waves grow steadily more capable.
Enemies don't just wander from one point to another, either. Some of them move more quickly than others or heal their allies. Other units are all but immune to physical attacks but will fall swiftly to magic, and vice versa. Some of them even mount assaults of their own, which put towers at risk and force you decide whether you want to spend precious points to repair them or hold out and splurge on a life-replenishing upgrade. If you choose wrong, your whole tower could be gone just before you were ready to save it.
Besides managing towers, you also control two heroes you are free to position and even relocate around the map. They have passive skills they will use automatically at regular intervals. You can also use active skills that then must wait through a cooling period before you are able to utilize them again. There is a nice assortment of available heroes that grows as you progress through the campaign. Some of them are good at melee attacks, some can take down airborne units in a hurry, some move around the map more swiftly and some even do neat things like set down traps or heal damaged towers within a certain range.
On top of heroes, you also have single-use items at your disposal. It's possible to call in reinforcements to stop enemies from rushing through a weak point in your defenses that you noticed too late, or to gulp down an elixir for a quick surge of experience points that lets you add a few towers in a hurry. And there is a "sentinel tower" that uses stored energy to fire electric bolts capable of felling entire enemy mobs, which feels absurdly satisfying.
Since Castle Creeps TD is a free-to-play title, you can probably guess at some of the complications most likely to get in the way of a perfectly delightful time, but the good news is that the developers at Outplay Entertainment have for the most part shown unusual restraint. There are plenty of ways to spend money if you have it (I myself spent a total of $19.98 to unlock two heroes more quickly than I otherwise would have), but generally your purchases serve only to speed up the grind. If you prefer, you can sometimes watch video ads that generate crystals you can spend to open treasure chests, plus there are daily objectives to complete toward the same end. Every so often, you also are gifted free chests just for checking in periodically, with no other action required. Finally, you are able to play a stage as often as you like to gain a handful of rewards each time, without even having to wait until you have enough crystals to open a chest.
When I first started playing Castle Creeps TD, upgrading heroes was a bit of a hassle. You had to hope just the right items dropped, and sometimes you would face significant delays there wasn't a lot you could do about. A few months after the game first hit the digital marketplace, that process was overhauled to its current form, which is much improved. You now upgrade heroes and towers by spending related cards that drop frequently and appear in the aforementioned chests. Which is great. The only problem is that you also have to spend gold.
Gold is acquired when you complete a stage for the first time while earning 1, 2 or 3 stars. Infrequently, enemies will also drop a sack of coins as you work to clear a map. You can often find it in treasure chests, as well. The problem is that every tower upgrade you purchase and every hero improvement costs a bunch of gold. I've now cleared every one of the 188 available maps with a perfect rating, so I've cut off that source of income. And I have been opening all the free chests I could since almost day one, for most of two years, and participating in special events that lead to more chests and more gold. I still haven't been able to fully upgrade more than a few heroes and towers, even though I have more than enough cards to max out everything. The only resource I really need is gold.
That's why I say that this time, I really am almost done with Castle Creeps TD. The promise of new maps and towers and heroes has been dangled in front of my face for weeks now, with no sign any of that will actually ever materialize. I've watched most of the video ads many, many times. I've cleared every campaign challenge on offer. Now, I'm left to check in daily for a few thousand more coins I can spend on towers and heroes I no longer have any reason to bother improving, except so I can perform better in timed events and hopefully earn more gold. I've wandered into an absurd cycle that has lost its appeal. With that said, the game clearly was well designed aside from that one flaw. I don't regret the money and time I spent playing the game. I'm just done with it now. I think.
Staff review by Jason Venter (November 22, 2018)
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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