Chess. A traditional game as old as time (well 9th century Russia). Some traditions are made to last, King, Queen, Bishop, Knight, Rook and Pawn. But wait! What if the rule book was thrown out of the window and suddenly the rook was the most important character? So what if the others were now a Rogue, a Fighter and a Sorceress? What if the enemy were goblins, orcs, wolves, or giant mushrooms? Is this even chess any more? Well, One Up Plus has stomped all over tradition to make this happen in the form of Defend the Rook. Time to pack a bag full of tactics, skill, logic and mortar and see where this adventure takes me.
Defend the Rook – It’s a Castle, not a Bird!
Can the few outwit, outgun and outplay the many? Time to bring it on and see what I am up against. My hopes are quite high as I do love a strategic challenge, and this is definitely in my ballpark. Hopefully, I’ll knock the leather off those bad guys.
Defend The Rook is what happens when different ideas are all bought to the table and you try and make everyone happy. It seems to be a lot of everything without being much of anything. Is it a Roguelike game? Yes. Is it a strategy battle game? Yes. Is it a Tower Defense game? Yes. Is it a game where you date cats? Ummm, that’s a big fat no.
In Defend The Rook you take on the role of the Magister, an Orco wanna-be from a faraway land. You are a magician of great power that can connect to battlefields to command your army (maybe not army) to defeat your foes. Well to be fair, they are not your foes, you’re just doing your bidding for the Golden Queen. Drinking a glass of nice chilled water will give an indication as to the weakness of the story, but at least there kind of is one. I won’t ruin the surprise because if you blink in the wrong place you will miss it. Just get on with the job and I’ll get on with explaining the game.
Defend The Rook takes place on five battlegrounds with five battles of five waves. You have to keep on movin’ through these battlegrounds, and it’s the things you do that will make that happen. The elements used are quite basic. The Rook, Fighter, Sorceress and Rogue are the main movable pieces. There are also barricades and traps to lay down, but the important thing is the placement of your towers. Get this right and the battle is half won, lose them early and it’s a struggle. Move your pieces around to attack the enemy without leaving your rook exposed. No one likes an exposed rook except the enemy, so let’s make sure they don’t get what they want.
After every wave, you have the chance to upgrade a character. These are random and some are vastly more powerful than others. Get a good one early and it’s lights out for the bad guys. I found the best tactic was not always to upgrade the same character, try and improve them all a little. During your battles, you get rewarded with money and experience. These are used to upgrade your characters and your towers/traps. These changes are what make each subsequent battle more manageable, so choose wisely. Gold and experience are not the only things to collect, there are gems, but these only come into play once you get crushed by the bad guys. These gems are used to gain permanent advancements and unlock different versions of the characters. Once again, these can make a huge difference.
Well, that is Defend The Rook in a nutshell, so what works well and what falls short? I’m glad you asked.
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
The Good. The battles are where Defend The Rook really shines. It can be very easy to rush headlong into helping your queen, but it is best to play the tactical game. Use the character’s strengths well and you will be rewarded. Think clever and keep your rook defended at all times. Good tactical placement of traps and towers will bottleneck your enemy and then they are easily destroyed. It can feel a little easy to start with but don’t get complacent. The nine-by-nine grid is plenty big enough, and using the blocked squares well will also aid your defence and attack.
The Bad. Sadly, I do have a longer list of issues, but compared to the gameplay element these are just a quantity of issues over the quality of greatness. The grid is diagonally placed on the screen. This means that the d-pad controls are all out by 45 degrees. This takes a little getting used to, more of a niggle than an issue. The randomness of the potential upgrades between the waves can determine the outcome of a battle. Get a bad bunch early on and it’s so much harder. There needs to be more structure or consistency in this area to balance out the game and put the focus back on the player. Sometimes smaller enemies can get totally hidden behind larger ones. it’s not really too bad, but it can happen. Keep an eye on the slippery little suckers.
The Ugly. Well, this is mainly the bad guys, the men who really need to work on their looks. Do bad guys really need to be that hideous? I think we all really know the answer to that one.
Graphics & Audio
Given the game style of Defend the Rook, the graphics are not the main draw of the game. Having said that, they do the perfect job of moving the characters around the board smoothly and the spellcasting and combat are a pleasure to watch. Well maybe less so when you’re being attacked, but it’s safe to say that it’s come a long way since Battle Chess.
Defend the Rook has opted for the less is more approach where audio is concerned. The background music, whilst apt, fades seamlessly into oblivion when the heat of the battle is engaging. The battle also mainly consists of well-timed grunting to ensure that the right amount of effort is known to be put in.
Defend the Rook is a nice little game that has been thought out well. It is fun to play and I know I will be revisiting it from time to time for pure entertainment. The more you play, the better you get. Each play can be tougher or easier depending on what powers you randomly get to choose from. This keeps everything interesting. I think there will be a good fan base, and maybe an option for a multiplayer game could be considered.
One Up Plus has come up with a little gem of a game, and despite its faults, it plays well, looks pretty and provides a challenge. Defend the Rook definitely ticks more than its fair share of boxes and I am really excited to see what is coming out of the studios next. The more puzzle-orientated games would do well to pick this up and test the grey matter for a while. Defend the Rook has bamboozled its way to a Thumb Culture Gold Award, that’s checkmate to One Up Plus.
Disclaimer: A code was received in order to write this review.