Review: Tiny Heroes

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Tower Defense games have become a staple in gaming over the last few years.  Variations on themes afford players total control where towers are placed or give rigid locations for defense towers.  Having played my fair share of the bigger names (PixelJunk Monsters, Plants vs. Zombies, and Defense Grid: The Awakening just to name a few) in the genre over the years I find that placing what you want wherever you want can be almost too freeing, but limiting defense locations to certain spots on the map can lead to frustration.  Finding a game that strikes the balance of too much freedom and too little can be a daunting task given the proliferation of tower defense games on pretty much every gaming platform.  Fortunately, Tiny Heroes for iOS devices lends itself nicely to both play styles.

Tiny Heroes twists the concept of tower defense a bit in the fact that you are guarding treasure from hero “creeps” with a mixture of fixed units, roaming skeletons, or even slow recharging area effect spells.  Early stages see one or two heroes attacking at a time over several waves, eventually increasing the number of heroes as well as the type.  Knights, archers, thieves, wizards and clerics form the titular mini-characters marching in to take your treasure.  In later stages, Epic versions of each hero are also unleashed into the dungeons for more chaos and frantic defense building.

Each stage has a name which relates either to the layout theme or helps to introduce a new defense unit, highlighting how to best take advantage of a unit.  Floor spikes, ballista, wall blades and Gorks are unlocked early in the game and are basic defenses that don’t cost much mana to buy but are fairly easy to defeat.  All defense units are placed in the dungeon by spending mana, which is accrued by placing Mana Crystals.  Of course, the age old question quickly comes into play: “Do I place one more Mana Crystal to add to my growing bank, or buy another ballista and hope I don’t need the extra mana right away.”  Managing and protecting resources is key to success in any tower defense game, but especially so in Tiny Heroes.  For all of the defense units that can be unlocked, there are limited slots that each unit can be put into before a level starts.  Weighing the pros and cons for different units based on the layout of each level can make for a quick, fun experience or a frustrating, phone-throwing gaming session.

The initial game consists of 50 levels that are broken down into two main areas: The Dungeon and Sorcerer’s Keep.  Once these areas have been defeated, additional levels are available to download for free and include the crazy difficult Gauntlet, as well as Carl’s Crazy Funhouse 1 & 2.  Additionally, there are some “extra” defenses that can be purchased which are almost a must have at later stages.  The additional units include Mana Crabs, which walk around earning mana to spend and burrow when attacked, an Ion Cannon, which shoots a “frickin’ laserbeam” through the dungeon killing pretty much everything in it’s path (your own defenses included), and my favorite of the purchased defenders, the Gorgon, which is almost equal in strength to that of the Epic heroes, but can roam the level and quickly dispatch enemies or stun them with a glare from its snake hair.

I’m torn on this game a little bit.  First off, the visuals are fantastic, with each hero and defensive unit uniquely drawn and animated.  The levels are quick to play through (especially if you hurry the Heroes into battle by touching the wave counter to send along the next wave).  Each level builds on lessons learned from the last, but that is where I start to find myself saying, “One more attempt and if I can’t finish it then I’m done.”  Later levels spawn wave after wave of enemies at such an alarming rate that if higher-end defenses haven’t been unlocked, the game quickly becomes unbalanced and unfair.  Learning which units to pick before a level starts can become a frustrating exercise of trial and error as the cool down for one unit may take far too long for it to be effective in the current stage.

While I also enjoy individual achievements as a method to unlock greater defenses, some are just incomprehensible as to how anyone would achieve them (or the time involved–I’m looking at you Tiny Hero Slayer-Kill 20,000 Heroes).  I’ve put easily 15 hours into the title and the meter bar showing how many kills I’ve made doesn’t even register a quarter of the way full yet.

One final thing I’d like to point out is that in between every third level or so, Challenge levels are unlocked.  These are optional, but do add to the total points earned in each section as well as certain achievements.  Challenge levels take their name seriously.  Maps are designed with the player at a clear disadvantage and test whether or not a player has learned how a particular unit can be best employed in a given situation.  The first few Challenge Levels start out cute and harmless, but quickly became my least favorite component of the game. Fortunately they are skippable.

As I stated above, Tiny Heroes is a great game for fans of tower defense titles, and early stages do a good job easing novices into the game and quickly getting them addicted to the “just one more level” mentality. A striking art style goes a long way to define each hero and defensive unit as well as keep each level full of vibrant animations and explosions of fire, electricity, tar and slime.  Replay is king as points are kept and tallied at the end of each level, with a carrot dangling at the end of the stick urging you to improve times and scores on each level.  There are some choices that players have to make that can lead to frustration if the time isn’t taken to learn the ins and outs of each defense, but for just $2.00 this is a game that should be purchased given the sheer volume of play styles available and the wide array of defenses at the player’s disposal.

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Pros:
+ Tons of replay
+ Lots of defenses to choose from
+ Unique look to each Hero and Defense character

Cons:
– Better defenses require some challenging unlocks
– Wildly unbalanced Challenge Levels
– Pay to unlock superior defenses
– Free extra levels only available after all original levels are completed

Game Info:
Platform: iOS
Publisher: Simutronics Corp
Developer: Simutronics Corp
Release Date: 9/8/2011
Genre: Tower Defense Strategy
Age Rating: 9+
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.