Towers Review

“Wanted: one overworked accountant to scale four Towers (Out Now, $0.99) packed with lasers, giant blades, carnivorous plants, and other things that will destroy you on sight. Godlike shielding ability a plus.” That’s a job description fit for a fan of Bullet Hell games if there ever was one, but this collaboration from Michael Yatskar and Lightworx pulls the entire package off so well it deserves to be known far outside a genre niche.

You can check out our hands-on preview a few weeks back for the lowdown on Towers’ major game mechanics. With the player’s means of survival constantly shifting from dodging bullets to centering the unlikely hero right in the line of fire, Towers demands the same visual acuity and catlike reflexes that your typical Bullet Hell Shooter would, while putting a truly fresh spin on the genre. This is the kind of game design ingenuity that makes you stand back and remember what indie development is supposed to be all about!

Aside from the cool bullet absorption twist, what really impresses me about Towers is how nuanced it is. The guns pointed at our hero track his every move, so the novice player will be tempted to fool them into predictable attack patterns. A gauntlet of additional threats successfully squash that thought, corralling you toward the center or into a corner right when that’s the last thing you want to do. The towers on offer at release feel very different thanks to their unique security systems, and the four sub-levels included in each tower environment enjoy drastic variations in and of themselves. The first level of the hardest tower will have you going through wild swings between near-death experiences and health replenishment thanks to all the plasma bullets flying around; another in that series cuts the guns entirely and forces you to think creatively about how you’re going to squeeze some energy out of its environment.

Lest I make it sound like Towers is accessible only to challenge seekers, you can play any level on “Casual” or “Hardcore” mode. A player unaccustomed to Bullet Hell games will have a perfectly challenging experience on “Casual,” while vertical shooter vets can rest assured “Hardcore” rains enough firepower to give the old instincts a run for their money. You can vary your experience quite a bit beyond that through the upgrade system — ignore it for the ride of your life, or pump your earned experience points into shield efficiency if you’d rather not have a heart attack. You can also dash around for coins that can be cashed in for upgrade points through a Wheel of Fortune-style minigame.

I’m tempted to ask for directional buttons that are spaced a little farther apart in updates, but the crook in my thumb notwithstanding, they’re perfectly responsive as-is on account of their large size. You can also switch to tilt-driven movement if that’s your thing. My real complaint on the interface front is the relatively small touch response area of the pause button, which can feel spotty when the sudden call or email comes in. It’s also worth noting that Towers isn’t especially suited to short spurts given its ten-minute, hundred-floor levels. On the upside, the game does a great thing in giving you a short countdown to assess the situation again when you’re returning from a break or a stop into the upgrade menu.

Music has often taken a backseat in small projects, so I was really excited to hear a separate tune dedicated to each environment. The soundtrack consists of low-key, gradually building ambient pieces that are perfectly suited to the game’s long ascents. Impressive pixel artistry went into its scrolling backdrops but Towers feels visually rough in other ways. Text descriptions in the upgrade system often flow over other menu elements. More importantly, the energy bar could benefit from a flashy cue to let the player know when it’s full; it’s not like you can take your eye off the action for long, so you’ll suffer a misfire or two as you try the health conversion button when it’s not quite ready yet.

iFanzine Verdict: Towers has “completely unassuming yet completely awesome indie gem” written all over it. If you’re a tired-out Bullet Hell Shooter veteran looking for something that turns the genre on its head, then this is completely worth your attention. And if you’re an action fan in general, we think you’d do well to give it a spin too — it’s unlikely you’ll leave disappointed.