Turnback Thursday - Block Fortress, a sandbox tower defence gem

Marry the best of both worlds of Minecraft and tower defence

Turnback Thursday - Block Fortress, a sandbox tower defence gem

In this edition's nostalgic time travel tour, we shall hark back to Minecraft's blooming age in 2011. I am a self-proclaimed nerd who, in his pubescent years, glued his eyes on the virtual library of apps and followed closely to the "Blocky Gold Rush" set into momentum by the announcement of Minecraft on mobile. Countless aspiring developers attempted to capitalise on this phenomenon with their own renditions. Fast forward to now - most did not live long enough to see the light of day.

However, some projects eventually took off to astronomical heights of success - outliers like Terraria and Pixel Guns. Like the treasure hunter I was (now an archivist), it's always blissful to sift through the mass of uninspiring duplicates fuelled by the carrot on the stick being rare and well-crafted legacy projects lying in slumber. And in today's edition of nostalgic pang-inducing dessert, I am obliged to regale the pleasant childhood memories I've made in the original, first version of Block Fortress by Foursaken Media.

The union of Sandbox and Tower Defence

During the roaring ages of match-three and infinite runners, to no one's surprise, the tower defence scene at that time was sitting on empty corners, collecting dust and cobwebs. The few that were available did not dare to be brazen in reinventing the wheel, opting to use the tried-and-tested formula of traditional passive tower defence gameplay, reducing it to an unimaginative waiting game to delegate your resource income to place turrets on a pre-defined map. Block Fortress breaks the mould by introducing an active tower defence set in a sandbox world, wittingly utilising the base-building aspects of Minecraft to double down on that aspect.

The customisability and flexibility aspects are plentiful. Right off the bat, you get to choose the terrain generation and type of the world, potentially allowing a Rambo experience - camping out in a dense thicket forest swamp with a dynamic topography. Having settled on that, the first thing you are required to do is to select a strategic position for your barracks, your lifeblood that you stake your resources to safeguard against a relentless, hostile force of blocky goblins (creatively named Goblocks).

Imagine the final scene in Matrix Revolutions where the Sentinels come in a swarm, eager to lay siege on Zion, all the while Captain Mifune gallantly makes his last stand to defend Zion's defence outpost. Without a sliver of doubt, that was the moment that shook my inner child to the core and I found the same kick in Block Fortress.

A foot soldier of grit, sheer willpower, and determination

You don't rest on your laurels, literally. In Survivor mode, once your base camp is set up, with posthaste you ration your meagre resources to fortify your defences with industrial-looking blocks to match the overall militant theme of the game, each with its durability scaling proportionally to the cost. Just like Minecraft, building happens on a grid-by-grid basis.

Hovering to another section is one dedicated to weaponry and turrets. In your repertoire, you're blessed with an array of defence weapons, ranging from classic ballistic machine guns and long-range howitzers to more high-key advanced energy weaponry like plasma cannons. Or, you can always go with a flamethrower block. As a form of restraint to scale with eventual level progression, each requires an energy source in the form of power blocks to operate.

Of course, you don't fight bare-handed as this is not a game that professes the might of martial arts. Instead, you are presented with a healthy selection of firearms to aid you, ranging from a handgun to a comically King Dedede-sized energy-powered mallet.

Fifty Shades of Red Alert

Thrust into the sandbox world of invisible borders with your base setup complete, off you go to fight against hordes of enemies with the click of the "raid start" button. The game is a masterclass in linear progression as the numbers and dexterity increase the higher the wave number. When one wave is completed, you are given a grace period to keep your stronghold up to shape, repairing your damaged structure or reinforcing it with more blocks. Of course, you’ll be awarded a payout of coloured minerals and moolah to fund your endeavours. The former is primarily used to augment your arsenal of handheld weaponry, structure blocks and turrets.

Naturally, you're not always under the Sun as night will fall, narrowing your field of vision and hampering your operations in the pitch-black darkness. To make matters worse, the Goblocks gain an upper hand and sneakier manoeuvres. To thwart that, it’s necessary to install light blocks or spotlights because, probably due to a technical oversight, your turrets do not come pre-installed with a night vision optical sensor.

The game is merciful enough to ease the load in the form of a little robotic companion that can do everything like pelting your enemies with more firepower, collecting spoils, projecting a defensive barrier, providing illumination, and doing repair work. 

Creativity in my Kingdom come

The game mode that gets everyone riled up - that's right, creative mode is on the table - is the sole bargaining chip sandboxes use to woo your heart, with that sweet liberty of taking your brain out of the jar for a spin to create many delightful architectural marvels. Back in my jolly days, I constructed mini amphibious battleships and game icons. It lets you get creative with base building. In my case, I recreated the deceitful and cunning field of the Viet Cong by raising artificial hillsides to bury my barracks.

If you're an architecture extraordinaire eager to broadcast your flawless creation, gone is the tedium of wading through your device’s directory to manually install others’ creations. Block Fortress has an in-game option to upload your world directly to an online archive. In turn, you can also enjoy a serene stroll in other’s constructs, with hopes of discovering nuggets of inspiration.

With the freedom of creativity vested in me, here’s a portfolio of ridiculous builds I pulled off:

Phalanx from the iconic retro space shooter title of the same namesake

A miniature Jupiter King statue from the Metal Slug series

Epilogue, what's next to come?

This tops the list of my childhood games I specifically plan to revisit them from time to time (provided no impending apocalypse is on the horizon to scrub both Google Play/App stores off the web). I realised that sometimes a fond memory trip with these games never fails to addle me with an odd sense of vintage charm. It's astonishing to see how massive the scale and scope of mobile games have grown now compared to the simple fun they used to embody. Block Fortress sits comfortably in my soft spot for how unrestricted it is. I assure you’ll be in for a therapeutic treacle by simply investing hours to build your fortress, with perhaps some afternoon snack or tea to boot.

Anderson Han
Anderson Han
A wanderlust by nature who regards video games as an artful medium for creative storytelling. I implore thee to join me on my jubilant voyage through the sea of video games. PS: I find great pleasure jamming to Touhou songs while riding on public transports.