The popularity of the handily-portable iOS game style of tower defense shows no sign of slowing, and Man At Arms is its latest iteration. Developed by Inert Soap, Man At Arms attempts a new spin on the genre by adding the use of collectible cards. Like the tower defense games before it, you spend your time strategically placing towers with various strengths and abilities in an attempt to bring an encroaching mob to a standstill. In this case, said mob is made up of swarms of anthropomorphized goats, pigs, and bears. As you fend off the increasingly massive hoards of slavering beasties, you must upgrade your towers, cast spells, and place auxiliary forces, all in the name of reclaiming a kingdom that almost certainly smells like farm animal droppings.
The first thing you notice about Man At Arms is its art direction. The characters and scenery are incredibly pretty. The colors are bright, the towers in all their various load outs are well-conceived and fun, and the character design itself is reminiscent of the golden age of strategy games like the Worms franchise. The movements are smooth, and the sound design is simple but effective. Kill enough goat men and their bleating will honestly make you feel sorry for them. That’s no good, because let’s face it: those gruff boys are just a distraction from the massive, plated mail-covered boar monsters that are on their way to kill your general and possibly steal your princess to another castle.
Playing Man At Arms provides the usual love-hate nightmare marriage that most tower defense games lock you into. When your strategy pans out, it’s damned satisfying to watch those whining piggies get smashed beneath the heel of your hobnailed bot. When it goes poorly, the feeling you get can only be expressed in expletive-laden shouting. None of this is new to the seasoned strategy gamer. They throw in a small story that advances with each chapter, but it won’t make you stand up and pay attention: the usual vagueness about a great evil that your kingdom must crush.
There’s no getting around the fact that Man At Arms is entirely derivative of the popular Kingdom Rush. And while there’s no end in sight of these sorts of knock offs, most add next to nothing to make for a unique experience. What piques the imagination in Man At Arms, however, is Inert Soap’s addition of randomized card drops. The drops occur during gameplay and after wins, so you get to shuffle through them and reevaluate your “deck” of various towers and spells after each level. This addition adds a level of strategy that isn’t present in other TD games, and it’s intriguing enough to keep you trying various combinations at every stage.
Also unique to Man At Arms is the level editor, which offers a chance to compete with any of your friends who have a taste for shedding the blood of pigs dressed in plate mail. Unfortunately, the editing process isn’t quite as user-friendly as it could be. There aren’t any tutorials, and the process of creation is arduous. It’s not difficult to lose your interest and go back to the single-player mode if you don’t have something very specific in mind to combine with some hard-earned know how.
Despite these hurdles, the game is pretty damn fun–the sort of fun you can expect from a reasonably well-made tower defense game. The environments and constant challenge make it easy to lose track of time. The randomized card drops are exciting; similar to opening a pack of Magic: The Gathering cards, you see a drop and get thrilled whenever it’s better than the current crop of towers you have. While we’re on that topic, I think it’s appropriate to laud Inert Soap for not going crazy with the micro-transactions. Don’t misunderstand, they absolutely exist. But they’re not assaulting you after every level, and they’re far from necessary to win the game and have a good time. I bring this up to assuage anyone who might balk at the $4.99 price tag. It may be more money up front than most are used to from the usual TD game, but bear in mind that you’re paying for the chance to play the game and not be harassed by advertisements for gems every five minutes.
In the end, Man At Arms might not be as polished as a game like Kingdom Rush, but it’s also got a level of character, humor, creativity, and likeability that allows its uniqueness to shine through. I recommend Man At Arms for strategy junkies who are looking for something familiar, with enough of a new kick to keep things fresh.