App Reviewed on: iPhone SE
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Tower Fortress is a game that makes one change to an existing formula by literally turning the premise upside down. It takes virtually all of the mechanics from Downwell, an action-roguelite about falling further and further down a well, and applies them to a game where the object is to climb higher and higher up a tower. It's a simple change, but one that makes a huge impact on the experience. Tower Fortress feels like a more methodical Downwell, and–although it's not quite as good–is still a pretty fun time.
Tower Fortress puts you in control of a hero that feels something like a mix between Sonic the Hedgehog and Mega Man. Using virtual buttons on the bottom of the screen you can jump, shoot, and move left and right, and you can tap your jump button in mid-air to perform a double-jump and spin attack that can damage enemies. With these few tools, it’s your job to climb through four different towers and taking down any enemies that stand in your way.
As you progress though Tower Fortress, foes and hazards put in your path get ever trickier, but there are things you can do to help even the odds. Treasure chests are stashed on most floors that you can open to equip new weapons, and defeating certain numbers of enemies can unlock special rooms at the top of a floor to grant upgrades for your character. Even with this help though, Tower Fortress is not messing around. It’s a super hard game.
Although your hero can get pretty powered up in Tower Fortress, don’t expect these enhancements to be permanent. True to its roguelite roots, this game takes away most of the things you earn when you die and has you start fresh from the beginning of the game when you want to take another crack at climbing the towers. If that weren’t enough, levels are also procedurally generated, making it impossible for you to simply memorize the best path for you to get back to where you were when you died.
The only thing that Tower Fortress doesn’t erase upon death though is gems, and gems can be used to unlock new characters that can vary up your play experience. Some characters get different starting weapons, others can get additional jump modifiers, but all of them have some sort of trade-off that keeps any of them from feeling overpowered. If anything, some characters seem to exist to make Tower Fortress even harder than it already is.
Climbing, dying, and retrying is the name of the game in Tower Fortress, and it manages to stay pretty fun, even if your runs are mostly short-lived. A lot of this has to do with the fact that the game looks and feels great. It’s just unfortunate that Tower Fortress struggles when it comes to some of its procedural generation and the way it communicates with players.
After just a few runs of Tower Fortress, you start to see a lot of the same level arrangements being reused, and some of them feel unfair. There is a set of spiked floors in the first tower, for example, that feel almost impossible to avoid without using characters with added jumping abilities, and it’s an arrangement that pops up with frustrating regularity. Beyond this, Tower Fortress does a lousy job of explaining how just about any of its systems work, which can make it take tons of runs just to learn the basics of jump attacks or how to gain upgrades. Replaying the game repeatedly to train your skills and learn new systems isn't anything new to games in this genre, but things here seem a little skewed to feel off-balanced, which is especially frustrating when your demises are met with pop-up ads. This is a free-to-play game, after all.
The bottom line
Tower Fortress is a tough-as-nails roguelite in the same vein as Downwell, but it doesn’t quite feel as polished. If there were some better explanations of how to play the game and some re-tooling of the level randomization, Tower Fortress would be incredible. Without those things though, it’s still a fun enough time.