The tower defense genre is one populated with hundreds upon hundreds of cheaply-made Flash games, expressly designed to help office workers get through their boring days at work (so, y’ know, every day). They’re basically the bread-and-butter of all those “free online games” sites that our younger readers probably spent the entirety of their high school career on - don’t pretend that you didn’t!
For those uninitiated to the genre, tower defense games (with some exceptions) operate on a pretty simple principle: place automated attack towers to stop the monsters/creeps/what have you from reaching your base. If a certain number of creeps hits your base, you lose. Pretty simple, right? Not really- most popular tower defense games require some deep strategies to succeed, and some games mix up the formula by reversing the roles, making the player the attacking party.
In choosing the candidates from this list, I selected the very best of what the genre has to offer - taking into account both art style, fun value, and how derivative the game in question is. We all love new blood, right? So, without any further ado, here are the top 5 Tower Defense games.
5. Defense Grid: The Awakening
Platforms: PC, Xbox 360 (XBLA), Mac OS X
Defense Grid, developed by Hidden Path Entertainment (an indie developer which is currently developing Age of Empires II HD), revolves around defending power cores from marauding aliens who attempt to make off with them. You, the player, control a (wait for it...) defense grid on a series of abandoned military bases in order to stop the aforementioned aliens, which seem to be fairly generic. The real draw to this game is the great art - oh, and that it was part of Portal 2’s Potato Sack ARG, which means it’s got some juicy GLaDOS easter eggs for those rabid Portal fans out there, as well as a fully-featured DLC pack featuring the aforementioned maniacal AI.
4. Revenge of the Titans
Platforms: PC, Linux, Mac OS X
Revenge of the Titans, developed by Puppy Games and hereafter referred to as Titans, follows the story of the aftermath of an alien invasion which has ravaged Earth. You, the player, are tasked with pushing back waves of enemy Titans, but Titans has a twist - there aren’t any specific lanes which enemies will attack through. Rather, they’ll all run at you from a specific direction, forcing you to use defenses wisely. Another game mechanic worthy of serious consideration is the use of the numerous crystal deposits dotted around the maps, which give you money to build more towers (if you build a crystal refinery on top of them, that is). On top of the excellent gameplay, Titans also features a great minimalist dystopian art style (which made perfect sense in my head, promise), which makes it a must buy.
3. Anomaly Warzone Earth
Platforms: PC, Mac OS X, Linux, iOS, Android, Xbox 360, PlayStation Network
Anomaly: Warzone Earth is an oddity in the Tower Defense genre. It’s set in Baghdad, Iraq, following the crash landing of an alien ship - and, surprisingly, you don’t play as the aliens. Instead, your player character is tasked with getting to the alien spacecraft, accompanied by a small squad of combat vehicles. The differences don’t stop there, though: in lieu of having an active combat role, your job is to support your squad with various powerups and items. It’s surprisingly deep, especially so when you consider the fact that, before Anomaly: Warzone Earth had come out, nobody had successfully executed this role reversal - something which developer 11 Bit Studios pulled off with aplomb.
2. Plants vs Zombies
Platforms: Google Chrome, PC, Mac OS X, iOS, Xbox Live Arcade, PSN, Nintendo DS, DSiWare, Bada, Android, Windows Phone, PS Vita, BlackBerry Tablet OS, BlackBerry
As one of the most-played tower defense games of all time, this classic doesn’t need an introduction - heck, even my grandma has played it. For the two people in the world who haven’t played it, though, here’s the gist of it. Plants vs. Zombies, developed by PopCap, is a simplified take on the tower defense format, which casts you as a homeowner trying to defend yourself from zombies attacking your backyard (who, apparently, haven’t had the bright idea of just attacking the front of your house). To stop them, you use a huge variety of weaponised flora, all powered by sunlight which, naturally, falls from the sky. There’s a reason why it’s so popular, and that’s because it’s fun, accessible, and humorous - basically the Holy Trifecta of good casual videogames.
Platform: Nintendo DS
Ninjatown is one of those lesser known gems, partly due to the fact that it was only released for DS, but it stands out amongst every other tower defense game due to how downright adorable it is. I mean, just look at it! With cutesy art (courtesy of Shawnimals) like that, who cares about the gameplay?
I kid. Gameplay is everything. Ninjatown, unsurprisingly, takes place in a town full of ninjas, which is being attacked by a bunch of evil demons or something. It’s not entirely specific, but it doesn’t have to be - all you need to know is that they’re bad, and you need to throw ninjas at them. The game itself, which released on the Nintendo DS in 2008, takes advantage of the handheld’s at-the-time innovations, incorporating both touch and microphone input into gameplay.