Defenders of the Mystic Garden Review—Garden Defense
Defenders of the Mystic Garden, a fantasy-themed tower defense game, is the second Mini from Twisted Dragon Media, makers of M.O.Z.O.X. Space Salvager. Or I should really say maker, since it’s essentially a one-person operation. Although I found M.O.Z.O.X. to be a fun space shooter, it was somewhat on the simple side, especially in comparison to titles from larger companies. So the developer made a determined effort to put more polish in his second title, and for the most part, it shows.
Tower defense is a genre I pretty much missed out on until Minis came around. Essentially it’s a strategy game where you must place units (originally towers, I guess) somewhere on the playing field to automatically destroy incoming invaders. In most of these games, the enemy follows a fixed route, so you have to figure out where the best spots to put units are, as well as which unit to put where, there being some differences between your defenders—how they attack and what special powers they can use.
Defenders of the Mystic Garden more or less sticks to the classic formula, though with some RPG aspects. At least, your units are RPG-classed: there’s a warrior with a hammer, a ranger with a bow, and two types of mages (or magic-users, as I like to call them), one that shoots fire and another that has an ice-based attack. Units can be upgraded, improving their fighting abilities.
While your units are something almost out of a D&D game or classic fantasy fiction, the basic premise of the scenario in this is not exactly The Tomb of Horrors or The Lord of the Rings. Instead, your hearty band of adventurers are protecting a gnome’s strawberry garden from a variety of pests.
Your opponents are mostly bugs and rodents, not orcs, hobbits, and balrogs. There are a lot of different enemies, though, sixteen in all. As you encounter them, details are shown on a page along with some basic stats, like how many you’ve killed and any special powers they might have. Some fly, for instance, while some are resistant to a particular type of damage.
The big difference from other tower defense games is that your units can be moved around the playing field, both directly as well as via setting up a patrol path. Not only can they be moved, it’s something you need to do in order to be successful in Defenders of the Mystic Garden; since you have fewer units than in most tower defense games, you need your existing units to cover more ground.
There really isn’t a campaign or story to Defenders of the Mystic Garden, as you just pick one of the levels and play from a map of the garden. When you finish a level, whether you made it to the last wave or had all the gnome’s berries stolen, you are presented with a score. Each level has its own high score and also keeps track of how many times you’ve played and how many times you’ve cleared it.
I haven’t played these sorts of games all that extensively, so I’m not an expert, but I found the game to be challenging, even early on. Thankfully you can skip around the game’s twelve levels (four maps with three variations each), because otherwise I would have gotten stuck. Each level has several waves, so it can take a while to clear fully. I’m not sure how long it would take to beat if you were good at these things, but it does have in-game achievements (or challenges, as they are called) so as to provide additional things to do.
The graphics are unusual, combining flat 2D sprites and 3D polygonal graphics. It reminds me a little of Paper Mario, how you had 2D sprites in a 3D world, but your units in this are actually polygonal reproductions of the 2D drawings, while the enemies are 2D sprites and flat. Presumably this was done because your units are well animated, while the enemies are done more basically (only about 3 frames, I think).
The sound is really where it shines (to mix metaphors). Each of your four unit types is voiced, saying a surprisingly large number of phrases. While it’s clearly not professional voice acting, it’s not bad at all. Much of it is funny and adds a lot of charm to the game, and there’s enough variety that it doesn’t get too annoying. Still, there’s an option to turn the voices off once it does.
While still rough in a few areas, Defenders of the Mystic Garden is a big leap over Twisted Dragon’s first title in almost every regard. It’s a cute little game, though I would have liked to have seen a campaign or story mode. On the other hand, it’s not particularly innovative; you get the feeling you’ve played it before. Ultimately, it’s very much a solid but not spectacular tower defense game. If you like those, you should like this. If you don’t, well, this likely won’t convince you.