A back-to-basics tower defense game with some surprising challenges.
Tower defense games have been all the rage for the last couple years, and in that time we have seen them grow from the simple enemies marching through a gauntlet of various tools of destruction to a more complex genre filled with controllable characters, offensive elements, and shiny 3d graphics. This is not one of those games; it is a back-to-basics gauntlet of mostly generic Final Fantasy cut-outs from the SNES area. This might be a turn-off for some, but those people are missing out on the surprisingly deep tactics that this game brings.
Graphically the game looks exactly how it would if it were running on the old SNES. Enemies, allies, and the boards themselves definitely have that 16-bit look, and animations are quite limited. Some people may be bored with this look, but I found it nostalgic and charming.
Along the right-hand side of your screen you will find some of your Final Fantasy protagonists, although they are largely there for show as you will instead be using the generic solider, archer, and mage "towers" (with more to come in the full version) to do the fighting for you. Soldiers have the strongest attacks, but are limited to attacking enemies on the ground. Archers and mages can attack both grounded and flying enemies. As you progress and collect the gold of your fallen foes, you can level these characters to increase their range and attack power.
Lining the left edge of the screen are the enemies, standing in the order at which waves of them will march to their deaths, hopefully. Many enemy types will be grounded and thus vulnerable to attacks from all of your character types. However, some will fly, some will be resistant to physical attacks, and others will be resistant to magic, ensuring that you must maintain a good amount of all character types on the board at any time.
This is where the strategy starts to kick in. You can see 5 or 6 steps ahead which enemies will be running your carefully planned gauntlet. You won't always have as much gold as you'd like, so being able to see ahead helps to to decide whether or not you should level up your archers for the flying enemy a couple steps ahead, or build more soldiers to deal with the high-HP enemy that is up next. You could spend money on your mages, but there is a pretty strong enemy that resists magic coming up soon. It seems simple enough at first, but as your enemy begins to slip through, you start to realize that you need to plan carefully and quickly. The full version includes more characters that debuff the enemy such as slowing their movement, which could only serve to make the strategy more complex.
Sometimes less is more, and I definitely think that is the case with Crystal Defenders. Instead of taking tower defense in a new direction, it builds on the core gameplay that made the genre so prolific. Some professional game critics are being pretty hard on this game, but if you are looking for a simple Tower Defense game with deceptive depth of strategy, you can't go wrong with Crystal Defenders.