Tower defense games are to the app store as porn sites are to search engines. It doesn’t matter what you’re looking for; you’re going to find one. I’d say they’re a dime-a-dozen, but nothing on the app store sells for under ninety-nine cents. Mikado Defenders isn’t a completely terrible game, it’s just a mostly terrible one. And with so many better tower defense games on the app store, I wouldn’t buy this game if it were free. With a long legacy of games behind them, TAITO Corporation ought to know better than to release a game as shoddy as this one.
The premise is a combination of the PlayStation 2 games Onimusha and Samurai Warriors, tied up in the trappings of a tower defense game. In feudal Japan, players must defend their castles against demonic invaders by deploying various types of soldiers to fend off waves of enemies. Standard unit types may be bolstered by deploying heroes from Japanese history such as Hattori Hanzo, Oda Nobunaga, Sanada Yukimura and other likely suspects. As with most tower defense games, enemies come in various types. There are the standard light and heavy troops, aerial troops that can only be attacked by archers, etc. Your own soldiers can be upgraded by spending gold acquired during play, and your castle fortifications and defenses can also be improved. Slaying foes causes your castle to absorb souls, which can be used to unleash Guardian Spirits when your soul gauge is full. Guardian Spirits invoke massive attacks affecting the entire battlefield.
Feudal Japan: As an unabashed ninja fanatic, and having played through the entire Onimusha series and several Samurai Warriors games, Feudal Japan is obviously a setting that appeals to me. Based on these facts, Mikado Defenders immediately demanded my attention when first I encountered it, and it pretty well nails its atmosphere. The game wears Feudal Japan comfortably. I only wish it had more going for it.
Graphics: Pretty from afar, Mikado Defenders reveals itself to be fairly repulsive up-close. A game best played through beer-goggles, I suppose. Low-resolution backdrops, art pieces and sprites are the order of the day. The game seems almost as if it were designed to be played on an EGA monitor, and would have been beautiful in 1984 when 16-color displays were all the rage. Stylistically, the artwork is very cool, but it flops in technical execution.
Interface: The interface is just as ugly as everything else; just look at the pause button, will ya? But it’s the deployment locations I take real issue with here. On each map, green circles represent locations to which soldiers may be deployed. While it’s certainly not impossible to place your troops on the board, there is a certain feeling of imprecision involved. But it gets worse, because the green circles — which greatly resemble muddy, green blobs — are also used to denote the current level of the soldiers placed atop it. But with the level indicator usually covered by soldiers, and difficult to read even when your soldiers step off of it, it’s extremely difficult to keep your troop levels straight. The game speed button is also bizarre; it has four settings, but always shows the next state rather than the active state of the speed setting.
Loading: No fewer than five loading screens stand between your icon and actually playing the game. Between loads, you’ll be asked to make one or two selections from menus before being dumped into the next load. On my iPhone 3G, it took nearly a minute-and-a-half from executing the game from my home screen and sitting through the loading screens and menus, to finally getting to play the first stage. I know the game isn’t loading high-resolution artwork or CD-quality audio, so I’m quite at a loss to imagine what it’s doing for all that time. At the very least, you’ll be able to catch up on your magazine reading while you wait to play. There’s even an invisible load when you invoke your Guardian Spirits; you won’t see the word “Loading” on the screen, but you will have to wait for the game to launch its low-res attack.
Derivative: Derivative of Onimusha and Samurai Warriors, derivative of games that take forever to load, and derivative of every other tower defense game out there, Mikado Warriors does very little (perhaps nothing) to set itself apart from its competition.
Slow: Not only does the game take forever to get started, but you’ll swear it’s loading even as you play. Even with the speed cranked up, the game just feels sluggish.
With so many excellent tower defense games on the app store, I feel like an ass for spending my time and money on Mikado Defenders. Like a ripe fool, I was lured in by its feudal Japanese setting, only to be set upon by its atrocious gameplay and painfully low-resolution visuals. The game is one of the stodgiest, ugliest and poorest excuses for tower defense gaming I’ve yet seen. There are one-man indie developers making better games than this, and so it’s all the more baffling that Mikado Defenders comes from TAITO, a company that has been making games since 1973, the company responsible for Space Invaders, one of the most legendary titles in video game history, and a company wholly owned by Square Enix, developers of the legendary Final Fantasy franchise and the recent Chaos Rings on the iPhone. Coming from such pedigree, Mikado Defenders seems an inbred, genetic fluke.
If you’re desperate to indulge in the feudal Japanese setting, then Mikado Defenders may be well enough to hold your interest. But if you’re looking for a good tower defense game, there are probably a hundred better options on the app store, and many of them available as free downloads. Play something else; this one’s a stinker. Or, if you don’t believe me, at the very least, play the lite version before throwing cash down on this one.