It’s unfortunate, but the moon is definitely not made of cheese, the future of inter-planetary habitation looks bleak and Savage Moon, ambitious in every regard, comes up just a tiny bit short. FluffyLogic’s new title for PSN may be a thinly veiled cautionary tale about resource mongering, or maybe one about underfunded military efforts abroad, but either one has you shunted off to the far reaches and moons of space. It is in this monochrome wilderness that you are confronted with the task of defending mining structures from fierce, giant scorpion natives of the orbiting crumblies. Stomp out the various tribes to suppress the uprising – which comes in convenient, if strangely well-coordinated, waves – to promote your continued depletion of any natural resource worth having.
As a tower defense game, the means for fighting the good fight shouldn’t come as a shock: build a variety of defensive and offensive towers to squash the baddies as they traverse maze-like terrain towards your goal which you defend with all your skill and strategic might. Your superiors are pretty stingy about your tower building stipend, so you will have to crush successive waves to earn credits and air-drops for future building. With bonuses given for advancing waves early, expeditious defeat is strongly encouraged. Complicating matters is the destructibility of towers coupled with uncompromising terrain. Building towers on high ground keeps them safe from ground enemies, but with limited real estate any viable surface becomes fair game.
Your arsenal begins with the versatile machine gun tower and a couple of upgrades. Everything from additional upgrades to new towers have to be researched, which costs credits and time. Towers are both offensive and defensive and include the standard anti-air, mortar, and the aforementioned machine gun tower as well as blocking and repair towers, among others. In the Command Priorities system you have the option to boost cash, defense or attack, and this ability to shift emphasis within a stage enables greater commitment to towers you have built.
There is a good variety of enemies and towers, but Savage Moon is by no means revolutionary and success hinges, quite simply, on building towers, defeating waves, repeat ad nauseam. There are only so many times you can fight through the droves before you start coming up with wild-eyed conspiracy theories as to why the government needs these mining operations anyway and what your place is in The Man’s machinery. If, however, government conspiracies and slightly repetitive game-play don’t trouble your sleep then Vengeance mode has endless waves of alien creepy crawlies for all gluttons for punishment. The Ability to repair your base is an almost unfair advantage, however, and for the cautious will make for easier game-play than you might expect. Unless PIxelJunk Monster’s brutality left you whimpering, Savage Moon is just a tad too kind.
That’s not to say there aren’t moments of frustration. Those typically strike when your tower inexplicably targets a far-off healthy bug over the nearer, nastier fellow in dire need of extermination. Or towers that go into snooze and waste seconds warming up again before they fire. Or the occasional “boss” that turns an otherwise successful play-through completely on its head simply by taking a path entirely adverse to that chosen by all prior enemies. While it is practically a feature of tower defense games to have to replay a level based on one critical failure point, it just hurts that tiny bit extra when it is the last wave of an otherwise breezy level, and the blow is dealt by a conniving alien cockroach.
As with many a tower defense game, perfection is the goal and where the true replay value lies, and online leader boards cater to that desire. The lack of multi-player is something of a downer, but by no means a deal breaker. Savage Moon’s RTS component makes it a more lively specimen than other TD games, and the success of this aspect is largely due to the game’s menu. Accessed with the X button, navigation is controlled by the D-pad to move through tiers like Research and Command Priorities. It takes a little getting used to with the burden of real-time pressure, but it works very swiftly once you are accustomed and is an admirably clean, efficient system. Outside the menu you control a target style cursor that determines the location of your towers with a very flexible camera that can zoom and shift views to aid your efforts. Even so, it is all too easy to become disoriented and the disparity between the crisp menu and the muddy environments is all too stark.
The environments are often just plain miserable to look at, and it is the towers that improve the natural landscape. Tower upgrade animations are nicely done, as are those of the enemies – though perhaps wasted on the very same nasties you hope to exterminate quickly enough to never be forced to admire them! The sound, while squelchy enough for the land-stripping ambiance of the game, is a bit of a let-down otherwise. With a lot of the same sounds and none of them imbued with the sort of weight you want from a polished downloadable, it smacks of being more appropriate to a browser-based flash game. It all tends to creates the feeling that for every two things Savage Moon gets mostly right, it gets something else kinda wrong.
On the whole, Savage Moon is an enjoyable game, even if it lacks the charm and obsessive allure of PSN alum PixelJunk Monsters. If, however, Monsters frustrated you and made you long for a grittier war zone then Savage Moon will delight and thrill, and with a $9.99 price tag more than earns its keep.