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On April 20, 2009, Square Enix released their second WiiWare title, a slightly remade version of a popular iPhone tower defense style strategy game. Tower defense games are a dime a dozen on the Internet, and are usually available for no charge. So what exactly, if anything, makes this one worth 800 Nintendo Points ($8.00)? Hopefully this review will answer that all-important question.
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Anyone familiar with tower defense games already knows what to expect. Essentially, what you need to do is strategically place towers--or in Crystal Defenders case, units--along a pathway that will soon be traversed by monsters. Once you have your troops placed how you want them, you push the A button to start a wave of monsters. The goal is to have your units destroy all of the monsters before they reach the end of the path and steal your crystals. Most creatures will steal one crystal, while others will pilfer two or more. There are multiple levels, each of which feature multiple waves of monsters and a different number of crystals to protect. If you survive all of the rounds with at least one crystal still in tact, you win, but you fail if you lose them all before the end.
Crystal Defenders is based on the Final Fantasy Tactics Advance universe, which means all of the battlefields, monsters and units are based on people and places from that game. At first, you start off with just two basic units, a Soldier and a Black Mage, but as the game progresses you will also unlock Dragoons, Time Mages, White Monks, Thieves and Archers. Each unit type will come into play as you face flying enemies, monsters that are resistant to either physical or magic attacks, and even those that move super-fast and can be slowed by the Time Mage's magic. On the whole, Crystal Defenders is easier than your typical tower defense game, though some of the later levels (there are a baker's dozen in all) can be quite challenging. A welcome feature is the ability to save your progress and restart a level should you run into trouble. That's much nicer than having to restart the whole game, as is so often the case in the free, Flash-based tower defense games.
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In an odd design choice, Square Enix has decided to make the game use the Wii remote, turned sideways. That means you will be using the directional control pad to move the on-screen cursor, the 2 button to bring up the unit placement and level-up menus, and the A button to start each wave of enemies. It works well enough, and there's no real problems with it, but I have to wonder why they opted against using the motional-controlled pointer for unit placement. Perhaps it would have been too expensive to implement, and in turn hurt the game's bottom line, but it sure would've been a nice addition to the game.
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Graphics and Sound
I was really impressed by the visuals in Crystal Defenders. The characters and monsters look a lot like their FFTA counterparts, which is quite acceptable for a downloadable video game in my opinion. Furthermore, this little $8.00 tower defense game looks better than the full-cost retail release Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time. I don't know if that speaks well for this game or poorly for Echoes of Time, but it is what it is. The menus are easy to read, and the background music and sound effects are quite impressive as well. I'd really like to see Square Enix adapt this engine for use in future WiiWare projects.
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Crystal Defenders R1 is a thoroughly entertaining title, especially if you're a Final Fantasy and/or tower defense game fan. Of course, if you enjoy both, than this is an absolute must-buy. Even if you're not, though, the enjoyable gameplay, impressive graphics and sound presentation, and autosave feature makes this well worth the price of a rental at the average video outlet. Of course, if you have an iPhone, a PS3 or an Xbox 360, it is or will be available for a lower cost on those platforms, which might make those versions of the game better deals. Nonetheless, this is quickly becoming one of my favorite WiiWare titles, and despite its shortcomings, I'd definitely recommend it.