For the last couple of Sundays, I have reviewed an RPG. This week, I decided to change it up. I wanted to play a genre of game that I usually don’t get that in to and see if I enjoyed the title. After all, my readers play stuff other than RPGs, so I should too. Today, we’re going to talk about the game Bloons TD Battles!
Bloons TD Battles is a game about monkeys popping balloons. You build towers with monkey warriors who throw or shoot darts, boomerangs, shurikens, bullets, nails, grapes – whatever they can find to pop those pesky balloons. This is an online multiplayer game, so other than a tutorial or practice run you’ll be facing real human beings. The game features multiple modes of play, features 16 different achievements, and lots of unlockable content. I’m going to be reviewing Bloons TD Battles on the following five criteria: Graphics, Audio, Gameplay, Content, and Time.
This game is pretty darn adorable. I mean, who can hate a monkey in a little submarine? Or a superman costume? In a tower defense game, graphics matter because you need to be able to clearly perceive what you’re doing and what obstacles are heading your way. Plus, the more targets and towers you have on the field, you don’t want lag to bog down your versus experience.
Luckily, Bloons TD Battles performs consistently well when it comes to graphics. The massive number of balloons on the battlefield, the towers that fire the largest or most populous ammunition – none of it holds the game back. The only times I had problem with lag were when there were problems with connection. I did have one painfully long match where it took multiple seconds for one second to pass by, and a single battle easily took half an hour. But in over thirty matches that I played while preparing to review the game, I only had that happen once. Most of the time when there are connection issues, the person causing them simply gets booted instead of causing lag. Getting knocked out because of your bad connection nets you a loss, so be sure to play this somewhere that your connection will be consistent (and not outdoors at your grandma’s house, which I tried).
There are multiple colors and styles of balloon that you’ll be up against, and they all read very clearly. I never found myself wondering what kind of balloon I was dealing with. Except for, you know, the beginning of the game when I didn’t know the difference (more on that later). The towers read equally clearly. Even similar ones, like the monkey buccaneer and the monkey submarine, are still clearly distinct.
Overall, this game is bright, cute, and looks really great. I honestly cannot complain about any feature of the graphics.
SCORE: 2 – Great
When it comes to sound, Bloons TD Battles does alright. Tower defense games are in kind of a weird spot. It’s a genre that you do not assume would need stellar sound design – there’s no voice acting, there’s no story that needs scoring, you just place some towers while some stuff comes towards them. But in a way, it’s because the concept is so simple that you do need solid sound design – if the music is bland or repetitive, it’ll get old before the match is even over, let alone over the course of multiple matches.
And that’s what happens in this game. The sound design isn’t bad. The little songs that play on the menu and in battle are alright for a couple of matches. The different towers have different sound effects based on what kind of projectiles they fire, and the balloons make a little popping sound. Which is cute when you pop one balloon, but when you consider that you’re popping hundreds of balloons per battle…yeah, that gets old.
Overall, this game is 100% playable without sound. Which is fine for adult gamers with busy lives, but is definitely not a compliment to the game’s sound design.
SCORE: 1 – Average
If you’ve played a tower defense game before, then you know the basic concept. You’ll have a small arena where hordes of enemies (in this case, balloons) will travel along a path from one end of a trail to the other. You build towers along that trail, and those towers will attack balloons in their range by popping them, slowing them down, or whatever other helpful function the tower might have. If a balloon makes it to the end of the trail and you haven’t stopped it, then you’ll take some damage. Once your life meter of 150 runs down to zero, then you lose the match to your opponent. So your goal is to stand your ground until their life meter is depleted first.
So let’s walk through step-by-step. When you first start the game, you’ll be given the chance to walk through a simple tutorial. This teaches you about balloons, placing towers, and making money. Depending on the type of match, you start with a set amount of money and a set income. You make money equal to your income every few seconds. You spend money on one of up to four monkey towers in your arsenal. Three you choose from your selection of available towers, one is randomly assigned to you if you spend a point of Energy. So you click on the monkey tower you want to build, and then hover over the map. You’ll see where the tower can reach, and if you click again, the tower will be built where you placed it and begin attacking balloons within its range.
While you’re clicked on a tower, you’ll see a layout of upgrades that you can choose and how much they cost. Clicking an upgrade when you have enough money to pay for it will immediately apply it. When you aren’t clicked on a tower, you’ll see a list of your towers as well as a list of balloon types and their costs (in the main game mode, Assault). By clicking on a balloon when you have the available funds, you’ll send some to the enemy and increase or decrease your income (based on the balloon type). So you buy balloons to increase your income, use your accumulated income to buy towers, and plant towers to defend your territory. Simple enough, right?
The thing is, there are a lot of types of balloons and towers. Different colors of balloons represent the “layers” of the balloon. Hit a layered balloon with too little force, and you’ll only pop a layer or two and the balloon will continue along its path. There are also heart-shaped balloons that regenerate if given too much time without taking damage, and camouflaged balloons that only certain towers can see. Which kind of towers? Well that brings us to my biggest complaint about this game: the learning curve.
Bloons TD Battles does not make anything clear or easy to find. The tutorial explains the barest of the game’s basics; not even the concept of regenerating or camouflaged balloons is delved into. As far as what the towers do, there’s a teeny, tiny question mark that you can click on that shows the effects of upgrades you can buy. That the tutorial does not point out to you. You can also go into the upgrades menu from the main menu of the game and get more detailed descriptions of the tower’s upgrades, but again, you figure that out for yourself. Even then, there’s never an explanation of the most basic functions of each tower – you can only find that out by deploying it for yourself. As a consequence of the poor quality of the tutorials and help menus, I spent quite a few matches not understanding why my towers refused to attack certain balloons and wondering what my upgrades actually did. Once you get into the game and have played some matches, you’ll start to understand and it’s pretty easy to pick up once you do. But the early-game learning curve is harsh and makes it quite unlikely that you’ll win your first few matches.
While things do get easier as you go along, there are still some aspects of the help system that don’t function well. You can’t see what opponent’s towers do or see descriptions of what different balloon types do. For example, looking at certain upgrades reveals that certain towers can burn through lead balloons – but if you don’t look at that, you’d never know that you need a special tower to deal with the metal balloons that show up. I recently fought a match where I was losing health every few seconds from something that wasn’t a balloon. The only explanation was that a tower used by the opponent was having that affect on me, but I couldn’t look at the opponent’s towers and therefore couldn’t check to see exactly how the ability worked until the match was over and I’d been beaten.
Now when it comes to tower and balloon variety, the game really delivers, and once you get into the swing of things the game is pretty fun. Every video game has a learning curve, but that should come from trying to learn the most effective strategy, not literally having to figure out the basic mechanics that drive the game.
Overall, the gameplay is pretty fun. Once you push through the difficult parts where nothing makes sense, you’ll start winning matches and the game really picks up after that. But those agonizing beginning matches are a bummer and can kind of give you a bad first impression of the game.
SCORE: 1.5 – Good
Bloons TD Battles has a lot to offer as far as content goes. You begin the game with only four or five towers to choose from, and with only level two upgrades available in those towers. With each match you finish, you get battle points – a consolation prize if you lose, and a generous amount if you win. These battle points unlock towers and their higher tiers, so the more you play, the more towers you can purchase and the more powerful your purchased towers can be. I say “purchase” with two meanings. You earn an in-game currency called medallions and you spend them on new towers, better upgrades, or balloon decals. You mainly get medallions by winning matches, but you can also bet them in special arena matches, risking some to gain a lot. Now my other meaning of purchase is a microtransaction. You can spend real life dollars to instantly unlock towers and tiers, skipping the time-investment aspect of the game and immediately getting a one-up over other players. You can also use dollars to buy medallions in bulk. Now these microtransactions can be frustrating because Joe Shmoe can spend twenty bucks and have better stuff than you earned by playing for hours, but they aren’t required to play the game by any means. So if you want this game to stay completely free, it is entirely possible.
With so many towers to purchase and levels to unlock, you definitely have things to work towards. I’ve put something like four hours into the game and still haven’t unlocked two towers, let alone actually getting all of the upgrade levels for any of them. Unfortunately, even when you win relatively often medallion collection is slow-going. Arena matches can expedite things if you’re really good, but losing those matches can also really slow down your medallion collection. So if you’re the kind of person who wants all the things, you’ll need to be patient or be willing to fork out some cash money.
I briefly mentioned earlier that there are two game modes: Assault and Defense. Assault is the mode I described in detail earlier and probably the one you’ll be playing the most. In defense mode, you start with a much lower income and instead of spending money to buy balloons and increase your income, you spend money on a flat income increase. Unfortunately, these increases are tough to purchase because they cost quite a bit of money for a small bonus, and since your income starts low anyway, it’s a feature that does not function well. I personally do not enjoy Defense mode, and I doubt other people do either. At a slow time when there were only a few thousand people playing Assault, I literally could not find an opponent to play Defense against. The game looked, and said to try again later. Meanwhile, I could get an Assault match instantly. Having the extra mode is nice but it’s one I don’t see many folks utilizing.
Overall, there is a ton of extra content in this game. All of the different towers are unique, and while there are some I never really bother using, that’s more about them not fitting my strategy and less about them being obsolete. The game is primarily held back in the content category by the possibility of power-leveling through microtransactions.
SCORE: 1.5 – Good
The time it takes to play a game, and the amount of time you want to spend on it, are an integral part of the game experience. This game falls quite comfortably into a really good time category. The time it takes to find a match and play through it is not particularly long, so enjoying a match or two can be a good way to kill half an hour. At the same time, you can put plenty of hours into this game, particularly if you are driven to unlock all the achievements and content. I’ve played for four to five hours and have just scratched the surface of unlockables, which means that this game is quite extensive. The only realm in which time suffers in this game is if you’re unlucky enough to have a bad connection that doesn’t kick someone out, in which one match may take an obscene amount of time. However, this is an internet issue rather than a gameplay one, so Bloons TD Battles is absolutely a game that you can enjoy over and over again, however much time you have to enjoy it.
SCORE: 2 – Great
When thinking about whether or not to give this game a score adjustment, I considered the one part of the game that I gave a less-than-good rating: audio. How important is that really in the grand scheme of things? Does it really detract from the experience of the game when you watch TV or listen to music instead of actually running the game audio? And my belief on that is that it really has little effect. The game audio could definitely stand to be better, but ultimately that doesn’t detract from the experience. Because I feel that bad audio shouldn’t bring the game down quite so badly, I’m giving Bloons TD Battles a positive score adjustment.
Bloons TD Battles is a fun game with a lot to offer. It’s a fun tower defense game to play with random folks online or with your friends. It has a tough learning curve in the beginning, and microtransactions can give some players a clear advantage over others, but these things don’t ruin the experience. The game is fun to play and is a great way to kill time whether you’ve got one hour or four.
FINAL SCORE: 7.5