odenis studio has built a good track record on DSiWare, with its capture-the-flag-on-wheels adventure Pop Island and its follow-up, Pop Island: Paperfield. Before that, however, it was responsible for the combat strategy Glory Days titles, and now it's drastically altered and miniaturised the formula into a downloadable top-down defence-centred package. Glory Days – Tactical Defense is the result, and the game makes for very fun and challenging, if somewhat uncomplicated, budget-priced entertainment.
DSiWare has seen more than its share of tower defence games, so it's good to see someone bend the formula a bit – rather than protect your base, you'll concentrate instead on the pathway there. Enemy planes, tanks and soldiers of various types, strengths and speeds enter in one spot and, on the other side of the map, exit across a finish line marked by American flags. That's right – you're the last line of defence before Uncle Sam gets it. Between the two markers lie diverging roadways for ground vehicles and troops to cross as well as hilly terrain through which enemy aircraft will navigate. You control a rolling, bouncing framework cube with the D-Pad, select between six different weapon types with the stylus and place, repair, upgrade or destroy them with the X, A and B buttons. It's a bit cumbersome to hold the pen and press the keys at the same time, but it never ruins the experience. It's also unfortunate that you can't tap a spot on the map screen to go directly to it but must wait for your cube to tumble there, though this does add to the challenge.
The beauty of Tactical Defense comes with the fact that each armament acts in its own unique way, making for some seriously challenging planning. You can't just place all of your best guns on the front lines and watch the bad guys drop as they try to cross. Some weapons will cause big explosions that can damage your own ranks while others aren't much for firepower but are heavily armoured, so it makes sense to place them in front of more powerful armaments with weaker defences so that they take the brunt of enemy fire. Another tool, the only non-firing piece of equipment in your arsenal, emits a wave that slows down enemies to expose them to sluggish shelling that might otherwise miss them.
The bad guys have their share of tricks to consider as well, from explosive-laden trucks that will eviscerate your weaponry and make you wish that you hadn't placed it so close together, to giant planes that come down with a fiery blast when eliminated and eradicate anything within a small radius. And just when you think you've got the opposition numbered, the game throws another strategic wrench into the machinery – you're only allowed 150 units at once, so at some point you'll have to begin destroying them and setting them up elsewhere as waves of tanks and planes become increasingly fierce and break past your scrappy squadron. The more enemies you destroy, the more money that you will make to go towards your arsenal, and the battle ends after a certain number of attackers cross through the exit at the end of the stage.
Things can get pretty intense, and with each new advancement you achieve you'll have to re-evaluate your strategy, but once you get used to this, there's not much more to the experience. The maps are decently sized but not terribly complex, and after a while you've seen every enemy type you're going to see. Consequently, things can grow a bit stale after extended play, though it sure is fun to see your score rise as you improve.
There are three maps total that you progressively unlock, the biggest difference between the set being only aesthetic. You can choose between four difficulty levels, which are unlockable as well. All of these add replay value to the experience, but it's a shame that everything's not available from the outset as you have to get pretty good to acquire it all. You can pause and exit at any time and resume where you left off, a definite bonus, and the game tracks your high score and your most advanced enemy wave reached for each stage, but there are no leaderboards; it's expected that a 200 Point title would be on the bare side feature-wise, but in a game that's so focused on racking up the points, it's a shame that your ability to compete with your friends for the top score is limited in this way.
The graphics are quite impressive, utilising simple designs that are realistically detailed with vivid textures and shadowing effects and animated at an impressive 60 frames per second. The sound design is similar, with crisp, realistic effects and intense, dramatic music that's expertly engineered and compressed.
Glory Days – Tactical Defense is an elegant game, utilising a small arsenal of features that interlock in such ways that with each bit of progress that you make, you'll have to re-think your strategy and combine what you've got in new, subtle and more complex ways. Though it's got a lot of depth and will keep you entertained and on your toes, the action doesn't change much and might grow a bit stale after a while; still, you won't find a more fulfilling, better looking and sounding defensive strategy game on DSiWare for such a low price.