Critical Play #8: Theme Only Games

For this extra credit critical play, I decided to play two games in the Tower Defense genre. When random game advertisements pop up on my phone, I’m often drawn to actually play the ad-version of different tower defense games, so I thought it would be fun to explore these games a little bit further. The two specific games I played were Battle Cats and Plants vs. Zombies, and I played both on an iPad Pro.

Battle Cats was a game I had never heard of before, but one of my friends highly recommended it so I thought I would give it a shot. The game’s general design was not very appealing to me, as it seemed extremely cluttered and busy. This made the on-ramping process tedious and drawn-out, as the tutorial walked me through almost all of the different options available on the screen. Despite these troubles with the general layout and design, I felt that the gameplay itself was extremely intuitive and interesting. One thing I particularly enjoyed was how the enemy’s tower changed design based on the country that the battle was set in. I also thought that the differences in the shape and size of the cats made the characters amusing and gave the game personality. I played the first five levels of the game, and thought the power ups and cats that could be purchased flowed very well.

Plants vs. Zombies was a game that I was obsessed with in the early 2010s, however, I didn’t remember much of the storyline or mechanics as I redownloaded the game. Because of the recent sketchnote, the tutorial was extremely familiar though. Besides that, I thought the game was just as fun as it used to be, especially due to the soundtrack and the scaffolding between each level. This game is a classic, and it shows in the smooth gameplay, family-friendly nature, and beautiful graphics.

I thought it was super interesting that even though these games rely on the same underlying mechanics, they feel extremely different. Battle Cats had a longer tutorial, and had more complex menu screens, in comparison to Plants vs. Zombies. I also thought that the plane-of-motion or camera view that we are presented was very different, as Battle Cats had us scrolling left and right to see the entire battlefield, whereas Plants vs. Zombies had the opponents coming to us in our stationary field. This made me wonder how having too many controls on the same screen (picking fighters, upgrading mechanisms, scrolling, etc.) may lead to a worse experience for the player. I also thought the graphic design was more drastically different for the plants versus the cats, and wonder if those differences in our “fighter” options makes the gameplay itself more visually appealing, and thus more fun to play. Overall, even though the two games had the same underlying ideas, their differences in execution and premise made the player experience feel like two entirely separate genres.

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