Review: Bloons TD 4 (DSiWare)

Pop it and drop it

Last year the DSiWare service saw the release of Bloons TD. It was an unimpressive but acceptable entry into the overstuffed tower defence genre, and this year we're leaping ahead three sequels to Bloons TD 4. If Bloons TD 4 is at all representative of the course the series has taken, we can safely say we haven't missed much by skipping parts 2 and 3.

As with Bloons TD, this game is a simple — and intuitive — tower defence game. You select a level, multi-coloured balloons appear, and you need to set up an assortment of defensive weaponry to pop them all before they reach the end of their path. It's simple, and when the game begins you might actually think you're in for a treat. That feeling won't last long however.

First, though, the good. Presentation-wise, the game looks nice. It's nothing particularly memorable, but the art is clear and colourful. The music, likewise, is pleasant without being anything hugely impressive. We have no qualms with this much, and even the controls are good; you use the D-Pad to highlight an item on the top screen and the stylus to place it on the bottom. In order to upgrade a unit you've placed — or sell it, or activate certain abilities it has — you tap it and then navigate the menu on the top screen.

So far, so good.

Where the game falls apart, unfortunately, is in the actual act of playing it, as it's quite simply glitched beyond all hope of salvage.

Tower defence games nearly always play the same card: after a relatively brief build-up, they intend to wear you down by overwhelming you with enemies. Bloons TD 4 does those other games one better, we guess, because it actually overwhelms itself.

Yes, Bloons TD 4 spawns so many enemies as the waves progress — even in the intro stage — that the game slows to a complete crawl. Without exaggeration we regularly found ourselves dealing with refresh rates of less than one frame per second, and were frequently dealing with two and three frames per second elsewhere. Bloons TD 4 is programmed so poorly it's embarrassing — and impossible — to play.

The balloons come in different colours, indicating their speed, HP, and sometimes even the type of weapon that must be used to destroy them. This would lead to some interesting strategising if the game didn't wind itself down into inoperability trying to render all of them at once, however.

The refresh rates would be bad enough if it were just an aesthetic problem, but it actually quite literally breaks the game. When there's so much activity on the screen that the game can't keep up with it, it will ignore your input. You can tap, slide and press all you want; the game will be too busy trying to cope with the apparently difficult task of rendering coloured circles to pay attention to what you're telling it to do.

This means that when things get frantic, which they frequently will, you won't be able to do anything until the game sorts itself out, which nearly always means waiting all the way until the end of the round and hoping your defences hold out. In theory at least you could avoid this problem by quitting before that many enemies appear, but since the game requires you to survive these advanced waves if you wish to unlock other items and levels, you'd be facing a very limited experience indeed.

Bloons TD 4 clearly wasn't tested very thoroughly, as this is not the only example of its rushed nature. For instance, there are captions in white that are layered upon other captions in white, rendering them both unreadable, and between-round instructions that flip by too quickly for any reasonable human being to actually read, let alone act upon. The entire experience feels like one that was designed entirely in code, and never actually play-tested to see if it worked.

Bloons TD 4 is broken. We wish we didn't have to say that, but we do. If you for some reason choose to play only a handful of rounds and never open the game again, then you may at least end up with some fond memories. Actually try to engage this game for what it intends to be, however, and you're out of luck.

Conclusion

There's no polite way to put it: Bloons TD 4 is genuinely unplayable. It's a simplistic tower defence game that doesn't really bring anything new to the table in the first place, but that's not the problem. The problem is that the game regularly overloads itself to the point that it no longer accepts input, a truly game-breaking issue that really should have been addressed in beta testing. A colourful presentation, fun music and unlockable levels and upgrades fail to salvage a game that simply doesn't work in the first place. This is one balloon that's never getting off the ground.