Tiny Heroes, big Tower Defense legacy (iOS)

Fans of the classic tower defense game GeoDefense are going to love the latest installment from the same developer. But does the new game uphold the "Thinking Man's Action Tower Defense" legacy?


There is no shortage of tower defense games at the iTunes App Store. Even in the beginning, developers understood that the touch screen was a natural fit for placing towers on a game board.

One of the first out of the gate, GeoDefense, was an immediate hit with tower defense players, providing a level of challenge that was mostly unmatched in the iTunes App Store. The game was developed by David Whatley of Critical Thought Games, a one-man development house. He developed the game in six months on nights and weekends. Our very own Josh Lowensohn wrote a story featuring Whatley back in 2010.

But things are different for Whatley now that his games have gone on to become classics in the iTunes App Store. Now he's got 25 people to help out with development and his latest game, released last week, has a whole new level of polish. Can it follow in the footsteps of his popular early classics? You be the judge.

This week's collection of iOS apps consists of tower defense games all made by the same developer. We've decided to put these games together as a collection because you can't go wrong with any of them and the earlier ones provide an excellent contrast with the latest game. Beware, though, once you get started you'll find these are the kind of games that are almost impossible to put down.

The original classic still holds up as you carefully place towers to maximize damage. (Credit: Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

GeoDefense ($1.99) is a fun and extremely challenging tower defense game, with unique gameplay that combines intense puzzle-solving with arcade action in a frenetic, colorful, vector-graphics environment.

The interface and basic play style resemble other tower defense games: you drag and drop five types of upgradable, sellable towers into strategic positions along a preset path to destroy waves of incoming "creeps" (geometric shapes and blobs of varying toughness and speed). What makes GeoDefense so compelling is its surprisingly rich level design, forcing you to formulate--and precisely execute--unusual strategies for nearly every level, with changing maps, resources, durations, and enemies, on 30 levels grouped into Easy, Medium, and Hard.

With such high-quality gameplay, presentation, and replay value, the only potential downside to GeoDefense is that the game is difficult even for tower defense veterans--so novices may quickly get in over their heads (although thankfully the game has recently added a novice mode). That said, GeoDefense is an absolute must for fans of the genre--even if it is one of the earliest tower defense titles from the iTunes App Store.

GeoDefense Swarm
In the later levels, the screen becomes a dazzling display of explosions. (Credit: Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

GeoDefense Swarm ($1.99) is the follow-up to GeoDefense, and is an extremely challenging open-path tower defense game. Like its predecessor, GeoDefense Swarm stands out for a unique play style that mixes frantic arcade action with bang-your-head-against-a-wall puzzle-solving. Aside from the new open-path format, GeoDefense Swarm has much in common with the original GeoDefense, from its psychedelic vector graphics to its drag-and-drop interface and the same selection of upgradable towers (GeoDefense Swarm adds a sixth tower, the Thumper, which deals damage in a wide area). You're still destroying a set number of waves of geometric creeps, all with differing health and speed, and GeoDefense Swarm occasionally mixes up the play field with obstacles and squares that have special effects such as healing and speeding up creeps.

GeoDefense Swarm features 30 levels separated across three difficulties--Easy, Medium, and Hard--and you can still choose Novice Mode if you want to play without posting high scores. Because of the more open-ended possibilities of the open-path format, the level design of GeoDefense Swarm doesn't feel quite as tight as the original, and you might find yourself having to experiment even more to find winning strategies for the game's constantly evolving maps and enemy configurations. Depending on your personal preferences, this can be a feature or a bug, but GeoDefense Swarm is definitely more difficult than GeoDefense. Newcomers to tower defense games may find themselves struggling, and unfortunately the game doesn't make learning the rules easy, revealing only incremental tips at the start of each level and piecemeal hints after lost levels.

Overall, GeoDefense Swarm is a solid, impressive game, an excellent value, and an especially satisfying title for tower defense power gamers looking for a challenge.

Tiny Heroes
As you progress, you'll unlock defense mechanisms like spike traps and wall blades. (Credit: Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Tiny Heroes ($1.99) is the latest tower defense title from David Whatley and his team at Simutronics. Unlike the classic GeoDefense games, Tiny Heroes does away with the vector graphics and instead offers colorful, cartoonlike animated characters. You'll still drag and drop defensive emplacements, but in this game your primary goal is to protect your treasure from wave after wave of attacking units. Unlike other tower defense titles, Tiny Heroes' attackers not only need to get all the way to your treasure room, but also need to escape with your loot.

Tiny Heroes starts you off easy with only one tower type and a few attackers of the same type to defend against. But with each successive level, you'll get another tower or defense mechanism and a new type of attacker. The game is balanced in such a way that certain attackers have an advantage against specific towers, so you'll need to plan for a variety of attacking units on each level. The game comes with more than 50 unique levels and you'll be able to pick from 30 different towers and defensive mechanisms as you defend against a seemingly endless onslaught.

Overall, Tiny Heroes keeps the challenge of the older GeoDefense games while adding an updated look and new unique units. With great-looking graphics and new challenges, this game upholds the "thinking man's" tower defense legacy that started with GeoDefense.

What do you think of Tiny Heroes? Is it as good as the earlier games? Let us know in the comments!

About Jason Parker

Jason Parker has been at CNET for more than 13 years. He is the Senior Editor in charge iOS software and has become an expert reviewer of the software that runs on each new Apple device. He now spends most of his time covering Apple iOS releases and third-party apps.