Okay I’ll start off by saying that Skyling: Garden Defense isn’t a tower defence game; it’s an isometric maze puzzle game. Before you say it, developer Mighty Studios have admitted that their choice of nomenclature is slightly confusing. Whilst Skyling: Garden Defense may not be the next Plants vs. Zombies (I know that’s what you were thinking) it certainly is an easy-to-pick-up and enjoyable little game that is available to download on Xbox One in the US.
The context for Skyling: Garden Defense is provided in a very brief four-verse rhyme at the start of the game. The gist is that beings named Skylings made luscious green gardens but monsters called Blights ruined the world, turning all greenery into dirt. You play as a little girl named Bloom, the last remaining Skyling who has the ability to turn the dirt back into grass. The first level, which is fundamentally the tutorial introduces you to the game’s very simple mechanics and controls. With thirty levels in total, each stage is presented on an isometric gridded maze and Bloom must walk on each square of the grid to turn the dirt back into grass and once the entire stage is green she can then walk to the exit. There are only two controls; the left joystick to move and the ‘A’ button to interact with objects in the environment, meaning that even those who are not particularly skilled gamers can pick up and enjoy Skyling: Garden Defense.
Despite its cutesy and cartoonish (yet slightly dated) graphics and tips written in rhyme in the sky, Skyling: Garden Defense is deceptively challenging. You’ll breeze through the first few levels but when more complex mazes and new enemies start getting added to the mix, the gameplay becomes surprisingly difficult. Throughout the game you’ll meet five different enemy types, the most common of which is the Stone Ogre who only walks on rocky terrain but if you run into one of them head on then it’s game over. Rooks, which look like cubic stone pillars, will continually move towards you once you’re in their line of sight. Whilst they move very slowly, their trajectories can be rather devastating as they change the whole dynamic of the maze and getting stuck in between two of them is a very likely possibility. If Bloom walks into the path of a Flappy Bat she will be rendered motionless for a few seconds, which can be crucial when other enemies are zoning onto your position. Orange Slugs will move around the maze changing grassy squares back into dirt squares, undoing all your good work whilst green Chompers are just anarchists and will follow you relentlessly. Chompers are by far your worst foe but other monsters, despite having slight restrictions on their movements, will naturally gravitate to your vicinity as well, keeping you on your toes.
You’ll find that all or a combination of these enemies are placed on each maze so reading their movements and adapting to events as they unfold is a crucial part of the gameplay; concentration and quick decision-making are key. Each time you play a level, things will usually play out differently, which provides Skyling: Garden Defense with an air of unpredictability and thus prevents the game from ever becoming monotonous, even after several attempts of the same level. There are no checkpoints or save points during a level so even if you’re caught on the way to the exit (a fate that befell me multiple times) you’ll need to restart the whole level from the beginning.
Your best defence against these monsters (other than frantically getting out of their path) are cats. Cats can be picked up (they make a superfluous but cute purring noise once you’re in their vicinity) using the ‘A’ button and put down in front of or behind you in order to block the path of enemies, disturbing and rewriting their course in the process. Using enemies against each other is another tactic that can be employed. You can guide Rooks to trap other enemies or block off certain routes and if you approach a Slug from behind you can pick them up using the ‘A’ button and launch them at other enemies, dispelling them permanently (unless it’s a Chomper and there’s a regenerating Chomper pit on the level). Elevators, barriers, higher and lower levelled planes will also come in handy as you’re avoiding monsters.
After completing the first few stages, all thirty levels will be unlocked so you can tackle them in any order you want, which is a nice touch as this alleviates any frustration if you cannot wrap your head around a certain level. If you really want a challenge you can test yourself by completing levels in as quick a time as possible or getting a three-star rating for each level. Your rating is determined by the number of points you acquire in the level and points can be obtained by collecting fruit and, if possible, eliminate monsters using the Slug technique. There may be fruit scattered around the maze at the start of a level and they also sprout once you’ve covered the perimeter of an enclosed area but they disappear after some time so you’ve got to be quick. Each fruit collected and each enemy dispatched will add an extra 100 points to your tally. Unfortunately there are no in-game leaderboards (friends or global) that you can measure your times and scores against; an oversight by the developer since your overall score becomes an arbitrary number when there’s nothing to compare it to other than your own personal best.
With its Pac-Man-like gameplay, demanding puzzles and varied level design, Skyling: Garden Defense is a good puzzle game that will challenge your concentration and decision-making for an afternoon. In the main menu there’s a message that says ‘support indie games’ and with a more than reasonable price that’s exactly what you should do and pick up Skyling: Garden Defense.
Many thanks to Mighty Studios for providing Indie Marathon with a copy of Skyling: Garden Defense for review! You can pick it up on Xbox One now for $4.99.
- Challenging Puzzles
- Varied Level Design
- Fair Price
- Dated Graphics
- No leaderboards