Savage Moon

Savage Moon

So what happens to a genre once an entry reaches the assumed pinnacle? Both critics and consumers hailed 2008’s PixelJunk Monsters as the absolute console Tower Defense experience. It made an obscure brand of real time strategy fun and engaging on a nontraditional platform. Monsters did for Tower Defense what Geometry Wars did for twin stick shooters, so, despite its alleged perfection; it’s only natural to see a slow crawl of imitators. Still, the line between inspired (Everyday Shooter, Super Stardust HD) and cash-in (Powerup Forever) isn’t quite as invisible as some publishers would prefer. This brings us all (somehow, I’m sure) to Savage Moon; the first Tower Defense game to arrive in Monster’s wake. Did FluffyLogic get it right in their attempt to further carve the niche, or does it regress on the formula established by Q-Games alleged masterpiece?

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Savage Moon’s allure undoubtedly lies with its aesthetic. Upon seeing the first rounds of screens I would have never pegged it as a tower defense game. The art direction clearly drew inspiration from the theatrical interpretation of Heinlein’s Starship Troopers (minus the militaristic fascism), and the camera angles are certainly atypical of the genre. Certain perspectives suggest Savage Moon could be a 3rd person action game or something as bizzaro-world insane as Pikmin. Either way it’s inviting, which definitely bodes well for genre-clueless casuals who may have otherwise assessed Savage Moon inaccessible.

The attached plotline is more of a theme and cause for motivation than a true narrative, but I suppose it’s worth mentioning. Humanity has (of course) consumed all of Earth’s natural resources, and you’re the cursor guy in charge of the mining operations on distant moons. You see, outrageously large bugs known as Insectocytes are an omnipresent thorn in the side of the mining operations. As the budget minded resource supervisor, it’s up to you to assess the situation and carefully establish a defense perimeter on each moon. Unlike the endless mining of foreign planets in, say, Mass Effect, Savage Moon actually makes the safe exportation of valuable minerals reasonably fun and engaging.

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All of this is accomplished, of course, by systematically eviscerating every bug that crawls (or flies) out of its hole. Initially this can be accomplished through rather simple means. Erect a basic machine gun tower near the nest, then kick back and watch it effortlessly mow down the pestilence. More bugs? Upgrade your towers and build a few more. Too many bugs? Research new technology, cut them off with a blockade, and watch it pull double duty as it not only delays their assault, but gives your towers additional time to unload on the hoard. Mortars, lasers, landmines – the gang’s all here,

As one might expect, the waves of Insectocyte infestation can get out of hand rather quickly. The progression in difficulty (usually) runs hand in hand with the upgrade tutorials, so you should always be equipped with a menagerie of different weapons to handle whatever is in your way. Whether or not you can manage your equipment and fight the right bugs with the right tools is where the primary challenge lies. Despite a consistently intimidating timer holding back the waves, getting the tools is easy, but utilizing and organizing them properly remains the bulk of the challenge.

More than anything else, Savage Moon (and tower defense in general) is about time management as a process learned through trial and error. Enemies waves will be identical each time out, but how quickly you build and how fast you adapt to your environment can easily make or break a level. For example, I remember a particular instance where I thought I had the 4th level completely figured out, only to watch the bugs take a path I had previously considered inaccessible. As a result they completely bypassed my master plan and destroyed my base on the first wave. I learned from my mistakes, planned efficiently, and did much better the second time around. Theoretically one should stop having to learn from their mistakes, get a grasp of the context, and thrive purely on intuition – and Savage Moon handles this progression…sort of…

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I suppose the intention was to grant the player access to a vast pallet of strategic defense mechanisms and allow them to learn and know what works best in against any challenge, but it almost feels like FluggyLogic too generous with some of the options. I was able to make it through some of the earlier levels by simply spamming the repair option at every angle, and some of the later levels were reduced to a challengeless dirge after I dropped amp towers all over the map. Sure, you could play it straight up and try and win via other means, but, if one is so inclined its way too easy to break the game.

That being said, assuming you don’t feel like cheating yourself the pleasure of an otherwise competent game, Savage Moon still has a lot going for it. The command priorities systems, where you can taper off some attributes and boost others, is a fantastic addition to the genre, and the animation and intentionally gross slaughter of the endless gangs of Insectocytes proved oddly charming (in a Tim Burton sort of way). Additionally, an endless survival mode opens up after you complete each level, which is a god send for harder members of the Tower Defense core.

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