Developer: Out Gaming
Publisher: Out Gaming
Genre: Tower Defence, Card Game, Strategy
Age Rating: TBD
Release Date: 3 September 2020 (Early Access)
A code was provided for review purposes.
Welcome to the Future
Deadly robots are invading the city, and all that stands in their way is you and your deck of cards. In Cartridge Defense, a cyberpunk-themed tower defence game, you’ll be setting up turrets to stop enemies from reaching the stage exit.
Where it differs from most tower defence games I’ve played is in its deck system, where you collect, purchase, and organise a variety of cards.
Visually, the game does a nice job of conveying a dark future, even if it feels perhaps a bit too grey sometimes. Your set-up is at a desk in a tower building somewhere in the city. On the main menu, and if you zoom in during gameplay, you can see out your window across the city, where an endless storm darkens the skies.
At your desk is your defensive toolkit – once you’ve selected a location to defend, what I presume is a holographic representation of the area rises into being. You can then use your cards to summon defences around the map, which is divided into grids of varying shapes and sizes.
Keeping Things in Hand
As you’d expect from a tower defence, you have a range of towers to deploy. You’ll start off with basic machine guns and flamethrowers, but eventually, you’ll get missile launchers and my personal favourites, tesla coils.
Since enemies do not attack your towers, you cannot wall off their path entirely. Instead, by creating paths with your towers, you can force the invaders to take longer routes.
Along with the different types of tower, there are also cards that you can use to improve towers. For example, an early card I earned allowed me to give towers armour-piercing, while another slows the invading forces by 5% for the rest of the stage.
As the game goes on, you’ll also unlock other options, such as setting tower target priorities, or items that can slow enemies for a single round.
There is a random factor to Cartridge Defense since its unique gimmick is its card deck system. You have a number of points to spend on defences each round, and you can only deploy cards that you currently have available in your hand. This can sometimes make starting a stage tricky, though you do get to redraw cards at the start.
However, I rarely found myself penalised by the random nature of drawing cards. I’m neither a card aficionado nor an accomplished tower defence player, but I was able to put together decks that usually gave me decent options to hold off the invaders.
My main advice would be to make use of the card purchase system as soon as it becomes available, though. When I started the game, I ignored this on my way through the early stages, but buying new cards suddenly gave me a range of towers and defensive options. Consequently, the game became a lot more interesting from that point on.
You can also save different decks. Depending on the number of waves, stages don’t always allow the same number of cards in your deck. With this in mind and the range of enemies that require a range of strategies, it’s best to have a variety of decks to hand.
Cartridge Defense has been in Early Access since September 2020 and aims to fully release within a year. However, there’s plenty of content to get into already. There are thirty stages currently, and each level has a “sponsored mode” that randomises the enemy spawns, offering bonus drops for successful runs.
There’s also a Roguelike Mode, that pitches you against a series of random stages using one of four premade decks. Alternatively, anyone feeling particularly brave can try out Endless Mode.
While the game has a Story Mode, there is currently no story to speak of, beyond what you can work out from the scenery. That’s probably just as well. Cartridge Defense is a very direct game in its approach, and lengthy cutscenes would probably detract from the pace it’s set itself. All the same, I’m a little curious about who I am, where I am, and why these robots are causing so much trouble…
In terms of issues, the main one I can raise is really a problem in any tower defence that I’ve played. Stages tend to be fairly long, running anywhere up to half an hour. Consequently, losing towards the end can be quite disheartening, especially as letting a boss enemy through is an instant loss.
I’m not really sure there’s an easy fix, to this, though. The essence of tower defence is working on what you’ve built over time, constructing an impassable passage of destruction. However, you can increase the game to 2x or 4x speed, which can make catching back up a bit easier. I tend to play on 2x speed anyway!
As for the visuals, they do a nice job but it can feel a bit monochromatic at times. Still, I quite liked how each stage has unique scenery, though I did see the same food stand crop up a few times…
Things can also feel a bit cluttered sometimes, especially if you have your towers close together. With all the lasers, missiles, and flames converging on the same spot, it can be a tad tricky to see what’s going on. I suppose all you really need to know is if any enemies emerge from the destruction alive!
The Future is Bright
All in all, Cartridge Defense delivers a solid spin on the tower defence genre. The card system is complicated enough to provide you with a range of options, while still keeping things simple enough to avoid being overwhelming. While it can feel a bit samey at times, it has a range of locations and layouts to keep things interesting.
With so much content already available, it’s definitely a game to try out even in Early Access. Once it’s polished, it could turn out to be a big deal…