Over 12 months after releasing in NA, developer ZeNfA Productions has re-named, re-tooled and rocket-boosted its tower defense title onto the European eShop. It's been a long flight - with an even longer list of promised improvements to go with it - but has it been enough to breathe life into the formula? We certainly weren't too excited by the original so let's shed some starlight on what's new.
ZaCiSa: Defense of the Crayon Dimensions! may have a pretty crazy title, but the gameplay won't surprise anyone who's dabbled in the genre before. It's a tower defense game through and through, where you'll choose from an arsenal of weapons, fend off hordes of enemies and live to fight another day. This cycle relies more on patience and repetition than full on action, but once you're into the swing of it watching round after round of alien ships fall to your intricate machinations is undeniable fun for a while.
This is especially the case when there are plenty of options to choose from, but we found the original to be unfortunately lacking in this regard. As such, it was exciting to see a number of new features available in this European release, with a few major upgrades now on board to add value for money.
First off, we've got a whopping 6 new stages to choose from, each with their own unique quirks and challenges for a grand total of 12. The differences mostly stem from how pre-designated bases are positioned, but there are a couple of levels that mix it up a lot more. Our favourites were a pair of themed maps based off of fellow eShop Indies Blok Drop U and Ping 1.5+, which actually incorporate elements of their individual gameplay styles into the stages themselves. It's possible to multitask two games at once with these stages, and it makes for a charming shout out.
There are some new enemy types to contend with as well, but they don't do nearly enough to fully stand out from the crowd of angular shapes targeting your home base. Some move faster, some take more damage, but in the heat of battle there isn't much you can do on the fly to deal with them. The major addition to your own loadout is the new Tesla Coil, which can chain attacks between targets. It makes for quite a spectacle, so we're happy to report that the game now runs at a smooth 60fps with minimal drops in performance - a major improvement.
Further gameplay tweaks include a new banking system, where the player is able to take out 'loans' when particularly strapped for cash. It's nothing to do with micro-transactions of course (phew...), but instead cuts into the points and money you earn by defeating enemies until you pay back the loan you received upfront. You can also play the game up to five times its normal speed, which ended up being our preferred setting as it lends a much-needed sense of panic to the battle.
Which leads us nicely onto Insanity mode, a new difficulty setting that amps up the chaos with much faster enemies and unpredictable special events. These random modifiers can either help or hinder the player for that round, by beefing up enemies or doubling the money you earn. At worst, it can double or triple the enemy count for that round, which totally destroyed us more than a few times. 5x speed is actually disabled for Insanity mode, so masochists may end up slightly disappointed.
Miiverse integration and online leaderboards were a disappointing omission from the original, so it seems like a no-brainer that they've finally been added for this version. With no real linear progression, the chase for a high score is a crucial focus, and an average score is cleverly taken from your top 5 to give a sort of 'player ranking' online.
With all that said - we're still left fairly underwhelmed. Don't misunderstand, the added features are pretty much all good, but it just isn't enough to stave off fatigue after only a couple hours playtime. The light co-op integration, offscreen play and new music tracks are all really nice features, but sadly aren't held together by a cohesive, engaging system that keeps the player fully interested. Frankly, everything sounds good on paper without properly gelling together in practice. It's too repetitive, with your interaction mostly confined to purchasing the occasional upgrade, and even those tend to blur together before long. It doesn't help that the barebones aesthetic has gone mostly unchanged, though the new stages do make an effort to freshen the palette.
One thing is for certain - we absolutely can't fault the developer's admirable dedication to improving the game little by little. These extra features and game modes have recently been patched into the NA release as well, alongside a minor price hike for new buyers to reflect the added content. It's still a budget title by anyone's definition, so it's far easier to recommend to those still feeling curious.
For all its updated and additional content, ZaciSa: Defense of the Crayon Dimensions! is still a basic package that doesn't do enough differently to stand out. The European release and free update for NA fans has brought some fantastic changes - most notably the improved frame rate of 60fps, a new game mode, online leaderboards and 6 new levels - but the basic game just falls short regardless. It's like a candy bar with sprinkles of goodness on top, but a bland, vaguely familiar filling that leaves something to be desired. At a low price though, it can deliver some entertainment on a budget.