Archmage Defense for IPhone

Brave knights, gallant wizards, and cavalier archers arrive at your castle to vanquish you. Too bad they didn't count on your chain lightning.

Archmage Defense from CDE is a tower defense game where you play an evil necromancer who must defend his castle from the forces of good. With your potent magical abilities you can electrocute your enemies, set them on fire, freeze them in place, and ultimately collect their souls to upgrade your spells and defenses.

Casting you as the villain in this cartoonish 2D game offers a refreshing perspective on the tower defense genre. While the art style and dark humor reminds me of Cartoon Network's The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy and the medieval elements recall the console title Castle Crashers, the game's clever use of the iPhone's control features and its darkly wicked gameplay makes it a unique title on its own.

You'll confront a spectrum of medieval soldiers, catapults, and archers in the initial stages of the game. You'll receive more soul points for dispatching as many enemies as possible with a single flash of lightning. The more enemies you get in a combo, the better you'll do. When your enemies die, they don't just fade into the background; instead, your spells brutally reduce them to cartoonish blood and guts. While not necessarily gory, it's perhaps a bit too dark for kids younger than ten.

Adults and kids alike who want to nurture their darker side will quickly take to Archmage Defense's spell system. To unleash chain lightning, you drag your finger from the necromancer to the target and let go. Viola! You've let loose a swath of destruction. Shaking the iPhone unleashes an earthquake, drawing a circle with your finger casts hellfire onto your enemies, and double tapping creates a crystal trap to stall your enemies. You'll encounter many darkly satisfying moments in Archmage Defense, like when you trap an approaching soldier in frost and then rain hellfire down on him, cooking him in his armor where he stands. Evil? Yes. But fun? Undeniably.

The game advertises an in-app purchase feature called "Gryphon's Fury" which will unlock new spells, extra save game slots, and new enemies to tackle. The new spells include the ability to unleash an earthquake via shaking your iPhone; the spell is especially helpful in that it both stuns and causes damage to your opponents. The ability to summon a Gollum to aid you in combat is nice as well, though it is not as versatile as the skeleton archer.

The major disadvantage of downloading the upgrade is the new units you're confronted with are demonically difficult to defeat. Charging knights take two or three lightning strikes to take down and are the fastest units in the game. Wizards are magical-resistant; likewise, they take a lot to kill. Yet, while both of these units can be slowed down or stopped by earthquakes and fireballs, taking down the griffins is nearly impossible. They're tough, they fly, and only your skeletal archer and lightning have any effect on them.

These three new units dramatically increase the difficulty of the game, making some of the later levels excruciatingly hard to beat. You'll stop trying to perform combos on your enemies when you see a griffin fly across the screen, cursing as you frantically try to kill the mythical beast before the rest of the hordes can reach your walls.

While the initial $1 download of the game only has a few enemies to confront, the additional in-app download changes the gameplay fundamentally by ramping up the game's difficulty setting. I'd recommend trying out the initial game and enjoy its many hours of addictive, clever, and wickedly fun gameplay. When you're ready for the big leagues, downloading the Gryphon's Fury update will give you versatile save options and a whole new level of challenge. (There's also a free lite version of Archmage Defense that lacks some of the full version's features.)

Bottom line: Archmage Defense is a darkly humorous, clever, addictive, and beautiful tower defense title. Hands down, it's one of the most fun iPhone games I've played to date.

[Assistant editor Chris Holt can think of a few uses for chain lightning technology in his daily life.]

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