Usually, when it comes to Tower Defence games my ADD-like attention span kicks in, and my brain shuts down quicker than a sated bear in winter. But Elefantopia have devised a great game that adds a new gameplay element to the tired old TD game type, and it works really, really well.
McDROID is the first release from San Francisco-based developer, Elefantopia, which incorporates a real-time Arcade assistance gameplay mechanic into the TD gameplay model. Right from the start, it’s clear that they knew what they were doing with the game, as they’ve most definitely set the bar very high for their competitors.
McDROID is a dog-like robot, who, accompanied by her friend “Shuttle” is heading back home to their planet “M”. When they arrive, they find that M is not particularly talkative… almost non-present entirely. The local fauna has been mutated into surprisingly violent versions of themselves, with the planet suffering from a corruption. It’s up to McDROID and Shuttle to heal the planet using any means necessary.
The base mechanics are exactly as you’d expect. You have pods, which you can equip with weapons, except these weapons can only be created when you have a certain amount of currency. In this case, the currency is strawberries (why, I don’t know… other than there’s heavy ecological undertones to the game in general, so why not?!). You grow strawberries over time, with your weaponry and upgrades becoming available only when you have enough strawberries.
You need to place your weapons in such a way that Shuttle will be protected, and you can overcome the corrupted land and fauna by the time the last wave is done and dusted.
So far, this all sounds pretty standard for a Tower Defence game, right? Well, what if I said you have to collect your strawberry seeds, planet them, grow the strawberries and collect them using McDROID itself, in a 3rd person viewpoint? Different, right? Well that’s not all. You can also decide to equip yourself with tools and weapons, turning yourself into a mobile source of destruction (and healing).
That’s right – McDROID is Tower Defence, but with a third person action-arcade element, which completely revitalises the game type for me. No longer am I just waiting for a timer to whittle down while I place my turrets in particular positions… then having to watch while the enemies saunter past without a scratch (as I usually suck at TD games). No… now I could actually get off my arse, and help my turrets by healing them, joining them and attack from different angles and even act as a power up to the turrets themselves.
When it comes to gameplay, everything is pretty intuitive. Your analog sticks tackle movement for McDROID and the camera, on the left and right sticks respectively. A tap of the D-pad opens up the weapon and upgrade menu, and you can deploy a tool/weapon/upgrade when you have enough strawberries for it. A gun will deploy to McDROID first, then it’s up to you to move and place it in the base point of your choice. Collecting strawberries is just a case of running over them, then running back to Shuttle.
When it comes to upgrades, there’s a plethora available. These start at simple lasers, but quickly graduate to rockets along with Shuttle upgrades too like trees you attach to the ship. These help things to heal quicker, but also any weapons in range of the trees you place will get a damage boost (the weapons themselves grow to indicate they’re getting the boost, which is a nice touch). You can get mobile bonsai trees that you place in the base stations next to other weapons and give them a boost. There’s also a little pet bot that will follow you around too attacking anything you get close to.
There’s so many available upgrades, from weapons, to armour upgrades, healing arms for Shuttle so that when you’re near to it, it’ll heal you and itself. This adds so many clever mechanics to the game, and make for a frantic time in later levels when you’re multitasking between harvesting strawberries, repairing guns, placing bonsai trees and attacking the enemies that your turrets can’t see or get to.
I found I was able to comfortably get through the first 4-5 levels, but then the difficulty starts escalating. By level 8, you’re getting completely overrun and you honestly have no idea what just happened.
Visually, the game looks really eyecatching and colourful. McDROID’s design is great, and quite cute-looking. She moves almost like an Alsation puppy thats paws are too big, galloping all over the place. The enemy design looks towards the meaner side of nature, taking inspiration from Venus Fly Traps and other carnivorous plants. You also get little bugs and huge snails with large teeth that attack you and Shuttle (not to mention your turrets). If you’ve seen the old horror movie “Slugs”, it’s a bit like that. (Though, read Shaun Hutson’s book… so much more graphic and visceral!)
The sound design is good too, with some nice music that doesn’t get too repetitive that has a 60’s vibe. The character voices are quite amusing, though Shuttle does talk a lot. Something that did irritate a bit is when you’re introduced to a new enemy or gameplay mechanic, the game goes into slow-mo and draws your attention to it. The first time this happens it’s fine, but if you need to replay that level, it can grate a little; especially if you fail some levels over and over. Which you will. A lot.
I’ve been playing this with my wife, as she’s more of a Tower Defence player than I am. She also really enjoys it, but has expressed an interest in a co-op multiplayer mode. This is available in the PC, Mac & Linux versions through Steam, but not currently on consoles yet (I was reviewing the PS4 version). The developers have advised that although the console versions don’t currently have a multiplayer, they are hoping to incorporate it in future updates.
There’s a lot I like about McDROID, and very little I didn’t. The difficulty is a bit off-putting for some levels (we’re not talking Dark Souls-esque difficulty, but it’s hard), but it makes you replay the earlier levels again. This is so you can unlock upgrades, in the hopes of getting access to something that will help. It can be slow-going, but it’s still very fun and rewarding. That sense of accomplishment you get when you finally beat a level you’ve had trouble with is great. Plus, there’s some interesting things later in the game, like a Michael Jackson-inspired Thriller level!
All-in-all I’d highly recommend McDROID – it’s not your standard Tower Defence game, and definitely breathes new life into a formerly tired genre. If you like a bit of strategy, along with fast, frantic arcade action too, then this is definitely your game.
McDROID is currently £14.99 on Steam, £6.39 on Xbox One and £6.49 on PS4.