There once was a time when the tower defence genre was so niche that, shock and awe, there weren’t these types of games released somewhere every week. In case you haven’t overindulged on the genre, Subatomic Studios’ Fieldrunners would like your attention, please. No, don’t leave, it’s good!
Originally released on Apple’s App Store back in October 2008, it was (and remains) one of the best in its genre with its strategic depth across five maps, six tower units and a whole lot of defending. It’s up to you to plot out the gauntlet your attackers will run and what towers would fit best in any given position for maximum impact. This creativity is a welcome change from having a set path that enemies funnel through, since your level designs can be as simple or as devious as you’d like, and it’s always nice to be able to change your strategy on-the-fly. Micro-managers will get a kick out of plotting the perfect path of destruction and it’s easy to lose yourself in the battle, wondering where that last hour went.
Each map in Classic mode allows use of four pre-determined, upgradeable tower units, ranging from your standard machine gun turrets to rockets to electric Tesla towers. Building a unit costs money, and you earn money by downing enemies, presumably extracting it from their fallen corpses. Maps last 100 rounds (or waves), but to unlock the next map you need only reach round 50. Failing a map means you let 20 enemies slip by your defenses, but once you get the hang of designing death traps this shouldn’t happen too much. Conquering round 100 unlocks Extended and Endless modes, which both give you access to all six turret types in the map, with the former limited to 100 rounds and the latter exactly as advertised.
When you’re 75 rounds deep the Fast Forward function unlocks for that map, but we wish it would’ve come sooner; up until round 30 or so you’re actively building your defences but eventually you’ll get to a point where they're strong enough to hold off the next dozen waves. At that point, the game basically plays itself with you acting as overseer, upgrading a turret here and there, maybe building a new corridor or so. We set the DSi down for a while and walked away, and upon returning ten waves later noticed that our defences didn’t let a single enemy combatant through. Once Fast Forward is unlocked for a map it’s accessible for each subsequent play from the beginning, but getting there in the first place can sometimes drag on.
Fieldrunners goes for the equivalent of 300 Points on the App Store but DSiWare patrons are expected to pay 500. The price hasn’t been hiked for the handheld; all five maps are included in the DSiWare release whereas the App Store edition includes three with two more available for 100 points each, so it’s all the same. What you aren’t getting is the OpenFeint online portion, which on the iDevices amounts to earning achievements, having a friends lists, leaderboards and such. Neither have online multiplayer, making the core content essentially the same across both platforms. It’s a shame you can’t compare your already-tracked high scores with friends or earn in-game achievements, the latter being especially boggling as to why it isn’t in since it requires no online infrastructure.
What is new for DSiWare is the list of the current and upcoming waves on the top screen, which is helpful in planning turret placement. Taking a hit in this version are the visuals that, thanks to the lower resolution of the DSi screens, lose a little sheen. Everything is clear and distinguishable so it doesn’t detract from gameplay, it’s just not quite as pretty. The audio presentation includes some nice battle anthems and satisfyingly chunky weapon and enemy sound effects but it all tends to get repetitive after a score of rounds.
Even with the online components removed, Fieldrunners is still very fun and addictive tower defence game and a welcome addition to the DSiWare library. There’s hours of fun to be had here, and even if you’re reaching the genre saturation point it's worth a look.