Re-imagining the tower defence desktop time-waster into a userfriendly, quirky and somewhat creepy strategy title, Q Games created a classic that became an office phenomenon, for us. People were staying after work to play it; tower lingo became a natural part of everyday conversation. It was an unparalleled feat of simple genius, reworking an existing template into a two-player gem.
Still, imagine being well into development of a similar title when that turns up on the Store – there’s definitely going to be a sinking feeling around the office. Savage Moon is a game with undeniable similarities to PixelJunk Monsters. You’re building towers to thwart waves of evil creatures, balancing finances and catering to enemies with different abilities. The differences, however, are significant enough, in our minds, to justify owning Savage Moon alongside the fabled PixelJunk title.
Savage Moon is far closer to a traditional strategy title than PJM. Controlling a cursor, rather than a weird turtle man called ‘Forest Defender’, the game streamlines everything into a few taps of the X button and the D-pad. The frantic, panicky drama of real-time strategy is there, but the steady difficulty and easy controls are in harmony with each other. In fact, if other developers had stepped up with this type of control scheme on the PS2, we wouldn’t have had to wait until EndWar before somebody dared to try an RTS again on a PlayStation console. Everything, including building options, technology trees, reports on incoming enemies and command abilities (see ‘The game of chance’) are accessed by scrolling through a basic menu screen. The design of this interface is so humble and clear that it’s never overbearing; everything’s big and chunky, accessible enough for even the least competent gamer to navigate with relatively little physical injury.
Graphically, it’s one of the better-looking titles on the PSN, but it’s certainly not the best. The game’s messy landscapes are pardoned by cool sci-fitowers and a range of weird, Starship Troopers-esque alien designs. Savage Moon looks like a high-res PS2 game – no bad thing for £6.99. As you progress through the game’s nebulae, the surface of each moon changes too, meaning that it isn’t constantly stale to look at. The towers are the artistic highlight, particularly the rather phallic mortar cannons that greet their alien opponents with a beautiful volley of explosions. Each upgrade makes a physical difference to the various defence turrets, even if it is difficult to tell between the various types (including machine gun, AA and laser towers) sometimes.
Wonderfully, unlike PixelJunk Monsters (sorry to keep comparing the two, but the conceptual similarities are a bit obvious), Savage Moon gives players the option to keep going forever in any level. This is called Vengeance mode – pick a completed location, start, and the waves will keep coming forever in what is essentially a Score Attack mode. With leaderboards in tow, it’s a way of extending the Savage Moon experience tenfold. Some levels are exciting enough that you’ll have to revisit them, meaning the game has a long-term appeal that is rare among the throwaway Store catalogue.
FluffyLogic has developed an almostperfect learning curve for Savage Moon. It’s unfortunate, though, that several of the game’s mechanics make the campaign a wee bit easy. You can repair your base, for example. If you couldn’t do this, every mission in the main game would pose a much greater challenge, but as it stands everything, save for a few boss characters, can be beaten by skilfully upping your income and clicking ‘Repair base’ every five seconds. It’s only a mite too easy, mind you, since most levels demand at least two attempts to anticipate the methods of the enemy, but it’s an overly sympathetic design choice nonetheless.
Savage Moon is admirably engaging, to the point where you will cheer when you complete a level. There’s a genuine feeling of accomplishment when, under the craziest pressure, you somehow prevail in the face of pathetic finances and poor tower choices. The battles get very heated – it’s always a bit sad when a level 5 Particle Cannon succumbs to the might of an Insectocyte spider horde. As that last sentence proves, Savage Moon demands its own ridiculous lingo that doesn’t make sense in any other context, such is the aggressive instinct required to overcome certain sections. In this sense, it easily matches up to the quality of PixelJunk Monsters.
So, don’t be afraid to own it, particularly if you felt bullied by PixelJunk Monster’s difficulty. Savage Moon is a quality Store title that deserves recognition – it’s slightly pricey, but you’ll be playing it long after the majority of PlayStation Store titles are forgotten.