The creation of Three Brothers Games, Tower in the Sky would at first appear to be a relatively simply take on the lane-defence genre wrapped up in a few RPG trappings. Scratch the surface however and you quickly discover that it’s really an immeasurably deep game built around a softer, more approachable style than most WRPGs offer.
The idea of Lane Defence games is a spin-off of the Tower Defence sub-genre of Strategy titles. Swapping out tower building and unit placement along a single road for multiple shorter paths and unit management on a single front. At first it sounds like an extreme simplification, until your realise that this makes the active area between enemies appearing and being directly in your face incredibly narrow and the game takes on a twitch/rapid response to crisis edge. Tower in the Sky capitalises on this idea by making those four units under your control characters, and sends them off on an adventure that’s epic on scale.
Graphically the game uses a 2D illustrated style that is reminiscent of South Park. Characters bob up and down as they walk and feature large heads on smaller cartoony bodies which display the gear equipped to them in real-time, allowing for a quick inspection of the character to immediately let you know what you have or need to equip. The world is also 2D and made up of dots along a series of interconnected paths. Visually the game is extremely pretty, striking the perfect cheerful point without having to resort to the use of 3D or delving into Manga style ‘chibi’ characters. This helps it stand out on the app store amongst its peers. The UI is clean and extremely well managed, tucked into the top right corner of the screen when not in combat and menus are extremely easy to navigate. The variety of monster designs (which also border cute and ferocious) helps to keep the games appeal long after the novelty of the art style wears off.
Sound design on this title is outstanding. It’s hard to match the tone of the games visual style aurally and rather than simply present looping background music with occasional sound effects Three Brothers Games have instead used short inter-mixed samples of sound and music cues to set the scene for an area before fading to silence. This works extremely well, giving the player a tone and distinct idea of the kind of location they are visiting without enforcing a specific mood for each location and grinding a limited number of tracks into the dirt. Better, it also helps to keep the games file size lovably low on mobile devices where memory space is always at a premium.
The narrative for Tower in the Sky follows the character of Chance, an orphan who is entrusted with a key by his parents and seeks entry to the legendary Tower in the Sky. He’s quickly joined on this quest by Cecile, who heralds from a long line of archers. Gotye, a depression battling emo wizard and Anton, the requisite strongman. Although more characters will later join, it’s these four who make up your initial party and the strong back-bone of your forces. Rather than simply leave an introduction and a long quest before you however, the game continually drops different plot elements into play around your quest to keep the game interesting. The second area you explore is in the process of a monster invasion and the knightly order there need a little help, and there’s always call for dragon blood at the local tavern. It’s the kind of game you expect to drop in and out of but find you’ve been playing for half an hour without realising it because it’s engrossing.
Gameplay sees you explore a world that is split into six distinct areas, each of which must be passed through in linear fashion to reach the tower and complete your quest. Each area is further broken up into a number of dots that you can travel between on a more detailed map of that location, and whilst you can travel freely through dots you’ve already visited, you can only progress further by battling and clearing out that spot from monsters. A player can make a direct b-line for the exit of each area (unlocking the next) or stay and explore, trying out challenges and sub-quests that are peppered throughout these areas. These in turn yield better gear and experience to reward your effort and make later progress decidedly easier. You can quickly alter your party’s equipment and switch characters in/out in the menu, as well as checking on their various functions. In battle characters each have their own form of attack and ranges or strength vary greatly. Chance can deliver a powerful sword swing but it only affects a very short distance whilst Gotye can hit every monster in a row simultaneously but only for low damage. These different abilities are backed up by special moves that compliment them, and both refill on timers so it pays to stay on top of your unit management. Characters can also be switched between the four lanes at any time and you’ll do this regularly to make the most of them and avoid damage to wounded characters. Monsters parade toward you from the right of the screen and include their own special moves, such as limited vulnerable periods, immunity to an element or turning defeated enemies into ghosts. Potions of various kinds also come your way, and barrels of explosive material are always a welcome sight. What would at first glance be a shallow combat system quickly reveals hidden depths before the game has even escorted you out of the first area.
A seventh quest area called the Underworld, currently sealed but planned to be unlocked soon based on user download figures looks to add additional depth to the game, and overall the experience of playing Tower in the Sky is one of deep enjoyment. This is a WRPG that encompasses all of the traits that make that genre great and gives it an original twist.