The tower defence genre looks set to become one which welcomes experimentation in virtual reality (VR), with Aldin Dynamics’ Twisted Realms having made an early play for alternate perspectives and Atop the Wizard’s Tower, Defiant Development’s VR Game Jam bronze winning entry, redefining the formula of construction altogether. Neither are entirely successful in their attempts to do so, but Atop the Wizard’s Tower proves to be a commendable effort nonetheless.
The videogame casts the player as an ethereal wizard, represented in the world as only pair of Mickey Mouse inspired floating gloves. From this perspective the player can pan the entire environment with the Gear VR’s head-look functionality, drawing elemental power from mana pools to use against the encroaching hordes. Air, water, fire and earth powers are at your disposal, with 3 different effects for each depending on how you choose to use them.
Each element can simply be thrown to the ground, directly impacting enemies. A second use allows the player to power pre-existing towers across the battlefield, offering a more enduring but weaker version of the elemental attack. A third option if to throw the element a base station that summons heroes aligned to the specific element, which the player can then pick-up and place upon the battlefield to fight the desired foes.
Contrary to traditional tower defence mechanics, the player has no control over the placement of the towers on the battlefield, nor their quantity. Instead they must evaluate the troops entering the field and align the towers with the correct elements in order to prevent their assault. A wide variety of enemies is present in Atop the Wizard’s Tower, many of which benefit from resistance to certain elemental types. Luckily, the player is able to change the element spent on a tower simply by throwing a different one atop it.
All of this is taught to the player in a tutorial that long outstays its welcome. Many of the videogame titles available on Gear VR currently are short-lived, but Atop the Wizard’s Tower threatens its potential lifespan by bogging the player down in an extensive series of challenges that do little other than ask the player to repeat the same set-up ad nauseam with a new element. It’s a real shame Defiant Developments didn’t arrange their introduction better, as once the dozens of levels in which the player is mind numbingly taught the same lessons on repetition, Atop the Wizard’s Tower offers an intelligent and fast-paced challenge.
The visual design of Atop the Wizard’s Tower is possibly the videogame’s best feature. The landscapes are pleasingly detailed and the cartoonish heroes and enemies are easily identifiable, allowing the player to make best use of each different element as it becomes available at a mana pool. The use of the Gear VR’s head-look is well balanced as the action takes place entirely in front of the player, spanning approximately 180 degrees, never commanding the player overreach or stretch their neck.
Tower defence titles may not be seen as the most exciting genre in videogames at present, however they obviously offer plentiful room to explore the VR medium. Atop the Wizard’s Tower is a pleasing stab at something new, but the relative inexperience of Defiant Development in this area results in an experience that live up to the reputation they’ve earned with the hugely popular Hand of Fate.