Down in the garden there is a war being fought … slowly. Two armies of slugs face each other across the battlefield, each determined to break into the opponent’s base. Armed with acorn guns and salt shakers, they race—er, trudge—into the fray.
Slug Wars is a new real-time strategy game for the iPhone and iPod touch, a little reminiscent of Plants vs. Zombies, but with both offense and defense. Instead of just defending your own base, the goal is to get three of your slugs into the enemy base. You queue up various types of slugs, each with its own abilities and cost, and when they meet the opposing line they do battle. Get all the way across the field, and your slug enters the enemy base.
There’s a campaign mode pitting you against the computer, and winning unlocks new slugs to add to your arsenal. You start with the Soldier (very basic but fairly fast) and the Tank (slower, but can shoot from farther away). Eventually you get such slugs as the Kamikaze (with a salt-shaker strapped to its back) or the Airborne, carried by a butterfly over the heads of the other slugs. You earn more funds by defeating slugs and by picking up flowers that sprout up on the field, and the trick is balancing firepower and speed with your available funds.
Skirmish mode is just a one-time battle against the computer, and Slug-It-Out pits you against a friend. There aren’t really any options to speak of: just turning sound effects on or off. There’s also a brief tutorial in case you need some help getting started.
The controls are very simple: dial the wheel at the bottom of the screen to select a slug, and then tap the lane where you would like to spawn the slug. Since some of the heavy-duty slugs are slower and cost more, you have to balance them with the faster Soldiers to gain ground and pick up flowers.
The graphics are great, with different color palettes for the opposing armies. The character designs are funny. Aside from the Kamikaze, who douses himself and the nearest enemy with a pile of salt, there’s the Nuke, sipping a cup of salted seltzer water—when he explodes, he wipes out half the screen, both enemies and friendlies. The sound effects are decent but nothing especially exciting (mostly some battle sounds, and each type of slug has its own battle cry as it enters the field).
While some of the earlier levels took me a little longer to beat, I found that the difficulty level didn’t really keep pace with me. Most games I won three to zilch; the one time I lost (right after the Missile slug was introduced) the score was two to three. Probably playing against another person would be a little more interesting because their strategy would vary some. I found I was generally getting by with only four or five of the eight available slugs, and I was starting to lose interest in the game. I’ve gotten up to level 35 with the computer rarely getting a single score, and even that mostly just to see if it was going to get any harder. (It doesn’t seem to.)
A few other minor quibbles I had: you can actually start deploying slugs before it says “Ready, Fight!” so for a while the computer was getting a few slugs on the field before I was ready. Also, I did find that the slug-selection dial was a little, well, sluggish for me. (Note that I’m using a first-generation iPod touch so I know the processor speed on this is a bit slower than the newer versions.) Also, there wasn’t a very clear indicator of progress in the campaign, other than a small label at the bottom of the screen during the fight. It would have been nice to see that on the splash screen, perhaps, and maybe some statistics would be fun as well.
That said, until I had gotten all the slugs, it was fun trying to decide on a strategy and discovering the new slugs. If you’re a fan of tower defense games, this is certainly worth trying out, but you may want to find a partner because I didn’t find the AI particularly intelligent—I’ve settled on a strategy that seems to be unbeatable against the computer. They do promise to release more slug units in future updates, so I’m looking forward to see what they come up with.
Wired: Amusing take on tower defense games that throws in offensive strategy; great graphics and character design.
Tired: Computer doesn’t put up much of a fight; bare-bones options.
Disclosure: I received a free download of Slug Wars to review.