App Reviewed on: iPhone 5
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Tower defense games are strategic by nature, what with the need to construct defenses to effectively guard a set path and all. However I don't recall ever coming across one that's quite as strategic as CastleMine. It's the reliance on resources that players have to mine for themselves that does it, although the mechanic a bit of a double-edged sword.
The goal of CastleMine is to dig a path to the bottom of the stage while gathering resources and constructing defenses. Players can dig in one of three directions (not up), and not through stone or lava, between waves and every time they dig down to the next level a new one starts. The gold needed to construct and upgrade towers is earned through defeating enemies, as per usual, but it's also possible to dig up gold deposits along the way. Similarly, the crystals which are essential to building supports towers (more damage, range, etc) can only be acquired through mining. And on top of all that players can also dig up relics for experience bonuses and skull tokens that boost enemy toughness but pay out big time once a stage is completed.
CastleMine manages to avoid getting confusing by sticking with a small stable of towers (three regular and three more for support). It may sound like a disappointing amount of ordinance to work with but each of the three primary towers serves a distinct purpose and can be permanently upgraded using skill points earned from attaining higher ranks. However what I like most about all of this is the way I'm forced to really stop and think about my next move. If I go for a gold deposit I'll have enough for a couple of extra towers, but I'll miss out on some crystals and won't be able to build any support towers. Or I might want to go after a relic for more experience, but if I do I won't be able to reach a skull and will totally kill my chances of attaining three stars for the stage. There's a constant back-and-forth over how and where to dig, and I really, really like it.
The toss-up is that it's entirely possible to inadvertently set myself up for failure quite easily. For example, I'll often think I've got a good approach only to find that I've accidentally blocked myself from reaching a skull and ruined my chances of nabbing three stars. Not knowing which enemies are coming in a given wave until it starts certainly doesn't help, either.
CastleMine is a surprisingly clever tower defense game that really forces players to think carefully about their next move. At least if they want to nab a good rank for a given stage, anyway. It can feel a little too unforgiving and trial-and-error at times, but it's still quite a bit of fun.