At first, I was completely pulled in by Savage Moon. My love for both tower defense games and Starship Troopers caused an instant infatuation with the game’s style, and the ability to go into a pseudo first-person view added a new way to view the carnage. I was in love. The mechanics of the game aren’t entirely different from others in its genre, most notably Defense Grid. Both send waves of enemies towards a base, both sport impressive graphics, and both have mechanics for “mazing” enemies, while keeping a focus on using terrain as an advantage. Despite their similarities there are several key points where they differ, and for the most part Savage Moon suffers from a lack of balance and a learning curve that lives up to the game's name; Savage.
There are several things Savage Moon does very well. Tech trees, for instance allow you to research a number of unique towers, each leading to better, more powerful turrets. Everything can be upgraded several times with incredible results. Each upgrade not only raises the attack and defense of the towers, but usually changes their size and look completely, making the level one Mortar Tower look like a pea shooter next to its level four version. There’s also an interesting and innovative balancing mechanic where you’re able to shift between defense, offense, and monetary growth at the expense of the other two stats. Think of it like Star Trek, where the captain would shift the ship’s energy to shields or phasers depending on the situation. Except instead of a ship, it’s a bunch of turrets on a moon, and instead of Romulans, it’s giant bugs.
It was glorious and wonderful until the game started getting hard. Very hard. This is a trait of tower defense games that isn’t uncommon, but there are different types of difficulties. For instance, the later levels of Defense Grid were extremely tricky, but there was always a really good reason for failure. After dying, I would be able to look at my base, think about the enemy’s path, and decide how to tackle the issue, and hope to succeed the next time. This isn’t the case with Savage Moon, and it becomes frustrating quickly. Tower AI can be incredibly weak, deciding to change targets right as an enemy is about to be finished off, which is nearly a breaking point for the game. On the flip side, enemy AI is punishingly smart.
After several waves of following an open path, the bugs will suddenly become overly aggressive, going out of their way to run towards your towers, sacrificing themselves to take out a row, usually doing enough damage to make recovery impossible. When it only takes two or three attacks to take down a fully upgraded tower there’s a chance the developers overstepped their bounds and created a game too difficult for the average audience, and likely even the average tower defense fan. The fact that the game allows towers to be placed anywhere, and not just on hilltops, is nothing but a cruel joke; building anywhere in the range of insectocyte claw is tantamount to suicide. There are repair towers and blocking pieces but they do very little against an angry wave of bugs, and it doesn't make sense that defending towers would take this much priority over defending the objective.
Though, out of what cannot be described as anything besides relentless hatred, the developers decided that this isn’t enough, and added in enemies that launch attacks at nearby towers as they pass. Four or five hits and the tower is destroyed, the money is lost, and you’re one second closer to shoving a controller into your television. By this point, most players will either decide to stop playing or look for a cheap way to win, neither of which are the signs of a well-designed learning curve. It isn’t impossible, but the payoff isn’t always worth the effort.
Savage Moon isn’t a bad game, but a good one with a number of technical and focus issues. The graphics and overall presentation are of high quality, and the game does sport several innovative concepts. Sadly, a number of crucial issues keep it from reaching the heights of PixelJunk Monsters and Defense Grid, and without a patch to address the problems, it’s simply too unpredictable to really justify an instant purchase. There aren’t any multiplayer options to speak of, though they would have helped the game’s value significantly, and besides leaderboards and an unlockable difficulty mode, the game’s 12 levels are a little on the shallow end. It is, however, a downloadable game, which adds makes the whole package easier to justify, and for someone who doesn’t mind a challenge, it might be a heavenly body worth visiting.