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An Introduction to the World of Bloons
In the beginning, there was Bloons. This is a simple puzzle game by Ninja Kiwi where you, as a cartoon monkey, throw darts at balloons and try to pop as many as possible. Bloons was so popular that soon there was a sequel, then more sequels, then player packs of balloon patterns made by fellow players. There are now 11 Bloons games with hundreds of patterns to beat and more released all the time.
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Bloons Tower Defense 1
T hen came Bloons Tower Defense. Riding on the popularity of Bloons, it, too, started simple. The first of the Bloons Tower Defense games gives you a map with a path, some money, five types of towers to pop the balloons, and six types of balloons to pop. Balloons appear at one end of the path, and the goal is to pop them all before they get to the other end. You can place your towers anywhere except on the path, and the strategy is all in where you put them (they can't be moved after you place them) and whether you buy new ones or upgrade existing ones.
Carrying on the theme of monkeys with darts from the Bloons games, the main tower type of Bloons TD 1 is a dart monkey. The others are tacks, cannons, ice to freeze balloons without popping them, and a prohibitively expensive super monkey that throws darts non-stop. Bloons TD 1 has 50 rounds of balloons, and you win if you survive all 50 without letting more than 40 of them get away. As it turns out, the cannons and ice are overpriced and underpowered, and you can win using nothing but dart monkeys and tacks.
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Bloons Tower Defense 2
The first game proved popular enough that Ninja Kiwi made a second one. Bloons Tower Defense 2 comes with three maps of three difficulty levels, two new balloon types (leads and rainbows), a new tower type (boomerangs), and monkey glue and spikes to throw on the path in case of emergency.
However, while it was exciting to finally have new maps to play, this second Bloons Tower Defense game has some downsides. The easy map only comes with easy play level, and the hard map only comes with hard level. It became quickly apparent that a mix and match approach would work much better.
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Bloons Tower Defense 3
The third of the Bloons Tower Defense games solved the biggest flaw of Bloons TD 2. Now you can play any map at any difficulty level, and the game tracks your progress, awarding you bronze, silver, and gold medals as you beat them. Bloons Tower Defense 3 comes with eight maps in all. It added more tower types (catapults, monkey beacons, and exploding pineapples for emergencies) and more bloons - the ceramic balloon takes several shots before it pops, and the MOAB blimp takes several dozen shots before it pops. It introduced new features, like bloon targeting (first or last) and individual tower pop counts. You can also buy premium maps and tower abilities.
As it stands, Bloons TD 3 is a very well-made game and still very popular. Its few downsides are minor. The main thing missing is the ability for players to make their own maps - something that seemed obvious back at Bloons TD 1, especially since it was already available for Bloons.
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Bloons Tower Defense 4
Enter Bloons Tower Defense 4. Finally you can make your own maps (though it's a premium feature) and play other people's maps (free). There is also an Apopalypse Mode where you can play through popping the same bloons in the same order, but without the interruption of rounds ending all the time.
Bloons TD 4 has all the tweaks that fix the minor downsides of Bloons TD 3 and expands on its features. You can target strong or weak balloons as well as first or last. You can see at a glance which upgrades a tower has. There are still more new bloons - pinks, zebras, camo, and the BFB. There are lots more new tower types - pirate ships, planes, mortars, wizards, and glue gunners. There are banana farms that give you a lot more money than the end-of-round rewards. There are some spectacularly high-powered, highly expensive upgrades for every tower type and not just the super monkey (which are now decidedly nerfed in comparison).
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Bloons Tower Defense 4 Expansion
On the other hand, many of the changes neither improve nor deprove from Bloons Tower Defense 3. Dart monkeys and catapults are combined into a single tower type, which drastically changes strategies that use them. Upgrades must occur in a specific order that you no longer get to choose. Boomerangs no longer have thermite for breaking open lead balloons - something you may not even notice due to cannons and mortars taking up the slack.
In short, the Bloons Tower Defense game series has reached a point of maturity, where anything more would probably be overdeveloped. Ninja Kiwi seems to recognize this as well - the latest release in the series is called Bloons Tower Defense 4 Expansion, and not Bloons Tower Defense 5. The expansion has four new maps, a Deflation mode (start with 50,000 money and get no more, ever), and a number of specialty modes that alter the tower prices. Compared to the feature jumps between Bloons Tower Defense 2 and 3, and between 3 and 4, the jump between 4 and Expansion is not that high.
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More and More Bloons
Then again, Bloons Tower Defense 4 Expansion has secret features to unlock on its advanced Temple map. The beginnings of a new direction of development perhaps? We'll have to see what Ninja Kiwi does with the series next.
And the original Bloons? The Bloons Tower Defense games have outdone them, with Bloons TD 4 at the top of Ninja Kiwi's popularity chart - above Bloons itself. The world of Bloons as a whole continues to expand, with games like Bloons Pop 3 (a puzzle game where you match three balloons of the same color in a row to pop them), Hot Air Bloon (pop balloons as a monkey dangling from a blimp), and Bloons Super Monkey (pop balloons as a super monkey, get upgrades inspired from the Bloons TD games).
Tower defense games in general have come a long way since the days of Starcraft UMS. Gameplay is very laidback, and it doesn't look like you do much while the rounds are actually in progress, but tower placement strategy can be incredibly complex. Ninja Kiwi's contribution to the genre so far has been top notch.