It’s never a particularly good sign when a game spells ‘achievements’ wrongly on its title screen.
That missing ‘i’ is the first suggestion that Train Defense isn’t going to be the most polished of games - as if that wasn’t already evident by the garish Geocities-esque title text.
That’s not a problem in itself – after all, developers don’t always have large budgets to play around with. But it gets worse.
Train Defense does a terrible job of explaining itself. Hit 'play' on most games and usually you’re gradually introduced to their ideas and mechanics. Not so here. After a while of fiddling around and working out how to make your train move, you’ll eventually be killed by the enemies attacking the strange blue thing in the centre of the screen that it appears you’re supposed to be protecting.
Then you’ll notice the legend ‘tutorial’ in small letters just above that flashing title. Tap on it and you’ll be given a lengthy series of text instructions – hardly a suitable replacement for a tutorial, particularly as it covers so many elements that you’ll forget half of them by the time you’ve returned to the main menu.
Then you start and gradually get accustomed to the main objectives – that strange blue thing you’re protecting is a water tower, which you have to stop enemies from emptying. It can also be used to replenish the energy of the carriages in your locomotive.
You’re also tasked with taking passengers from the building on the left–hand side of the screen to the one on the right. Doing so bumps your score more than simply destroying enemies with your auto-firing turrets.
Occasionally, you’ll get the opportunity to pick up new carriages by reversing the back one into them, while pick-ups dropped by enemies allow you to attach weapons to your coaches.
These range from short-range twin cannons through zappers that fire electric currents through enemy clusters to a freeze ray that can hold enemies in place for a short time.
Alternatively, you can attach weapons to towers that you position around the water tower to help protect it while you’re busy elsewhere. Further collectable upgrades boost the defences of your carriages or towers, while allowing the former to hold more passengers, which in turn increase the rate at which pick-ups arrive. Finally, you can toot your horn for a temporary speed boost.
It might create a bad first impression with its feeble presentation, but behind the lacklustre visuals lies a fresh and surprisingly nuanced take on the tower defence game.
The weapons are well-balanced, and enemy waves provide a variety of challenges, from fast-moving but frail vehicles that zip straight to the water spouts to hammering tanks that can easily take out a carriage or two.
After a while you’ll be separating carriages to make your train more manageable and switching weapons regularly to deal with the disparate threats.
Train Defense may be ugly and fairly slight, but look past its initial shortcomings and you’ll find a surprisingly entertaining approach to a timeworn genre.