One of the Best Tower Defense Experiences Around

User Rating: 9.5 | Starship Patrol DS
When eShop hit earlier this month, I admit, Starship Defense wasn't one of the first titles I picked up. I initially tried out a couple of cheapo games, and then after getting my feet wet with the online store, I picked up two titles I'd promised myself I would absolutely buy when I had the chance: Shantae and Dark Void Zero. Though I enjoyed both of those titles a great deal, I can now say Starship Defense is easily my favorite downloadable purchase for my 3DS thus far.

First off, Starship Defense comes from a very good pedigree: Q-Games, makers of the PixelJunk series, Art Style Digidrive, and Star Fox Command (a personal favorite). With Starship Defense, they take a tried-and-true genre -- Tower Defense (TD) -- and manage to, once again, create an interesting and unique adventure. All, "adventure" might be a stretch, but it's not a completely lifeless TD experience; there's a little bit of story nestled into the game and a robot mascot that keeps you company as you journey through space.

Like most TD games, enemies patrol along a set path, but rather than focus on merely preventing enemies from reaching an exit, you're focusing instead on your ship's shields (your health bar, basically). See, enemies in Starship Defense will attack your ship and even do suicide runs right into the hull. Instead of building up towers to block their path and slow down their march, you'll add turrets, gravity guns, mine stations, space ports -- some really cool defenses that, in the latter parts of the game, you'll have to be very clever about implementing. The enemy paths switch up throughout each level – this isn't a mindless tower defense at all.

There are 30 levels in all, and though that might not sound like a lot, only the first handful will you breeze through. Once you hit the teen levels, things start to get really interesting. Like any good TD game, your skills and strategic prowess will be put to the test, and redoing levels is less a chore than simply a fun challenge. Every time you earn several perfects (completing a level without allowing any ships to escape), you'll unlock music tracks for the menu screen.

Q-Games also add a few other unique touches to Starship Defense that set the game apart from the TD pack. You'll earn S.O.S. cards at the end of each battle, which can be used in emergency situations. After each wave in a given level, you'll gain a single power crystal that can be used to make use of S.O.S. cards, increase your power-orb (currency to purchase new weaponry) multiplier, or unlock more powerful turrets, such as the gravity gun and tractor beam.

The look of the game is very Q-games – that is to say it's both minimalist and ambitious at the same time. The art style almost looks like notebook paper, and if you've seen screen shots of gameplay, it's as simplistic as it appears. However, it's also extremely polished and pleasing to behold.

It doesn't hurt that the music and sound effects are both excellent as well. The music is moody and often urgent, making for a perfect fit for the gameplay. The soundtrack truly drives home the space theme in spite of the mostly black-and-grey visual palette. The sound effects are as simple as the graphics, yet they, too, are a nice match for the TD action.

This is a $5 game that feels like a full-on retail product. It's got more polish and character than many packaged games, and it definitely sits well above the pack on DSiWare/eShop. If you're at all interested in this sort of gameplay, don't even hesitate for a second to pick this one up. It's an immense value, downloadable or otherwise.