Once upon a time, Armor Games published a flash game called Crush the Castle, and it was quite good. Then another studio came along, replaced the trebuchet with a slingshot, the ordnance with birds, and made off with all the gold in the land.
Armor Games strikes back, sort of, with Siege Hero, an iPhone/iPad game that is divergent from Angry Birds in the most important areas, and nakedly derivative of it in just the right ways to deliver an all-around good time to the knowledgable gamer.
The concept is the same: It's a physics game in which you must bring a tottering construction down on its occupants in as few shots as possible. But in gameplay Siege Hero is more like Armor's Sieger than Crush the Castle (or Angry Birds). Instead of firing in an arc from the left side of the screen, you are facing your objective head on, and you tap the area where you wish to target your shot.
A telescope feature, unlocked very early on, allows for very precise aim. To balance this out, Siege Hero's castles have a more demanding build to them that require you to think hard about their weakest point if you want to get the level's top score (represented as a gold crown, above a silver crown and a beat-up viking hat). In some cases, you'll need to set the collapse up with a shot at a load bearing wall that apparently does nothing, until the second shot sets the whole thing in motion.
You get variable ammo: the straight up heavy rock, cluster rocks, bombs, cluster bombs, fire jars and boiling oil, the latter of which is antipersonnel only. Another wrinkle not seen in Angry Birds is the presence of peasants who must be spared from the collapse if you're to claim the gold crown.
Those who find Angry Birds maddeningly addictive will easily find Siege Hero to be the same. The difference is Angry Birds' inscrutable slingshot trajectory makes it very, very difficult to set up precision shots, much less repeat them. Siege Hero is satisfying in that you will hit what you aim at, but you have to think a little harder about what you want to hit and why.
Siege Hero's presentation, art style and other touches mimic Rovio's hit without a care, from the pause menu to the treasure levels to the taunting laughter when you fail the board. It's like Armor knows people will call this an Angry Birds ripoff without knowing the full story, which makes those people, not Rovio, the butt of Siege Hero's meta-joke.
In a span of about four days I gold-crowned all sixty-three levels plus the 10 treasure levels, and collected every badge but one (saving 300 peasants), That may sound easier than Angry Birds, but as hard as that game is to put down, I tire of the masochism it requires to three-star some boards. Siege Hero puts up enough of a fight while being much more transparent about its expectations.
It may never come close to being the gargantuan presence on the App Store that is Angry Birds but for me, Armor reminds us it was the first to do this kind of game, and with Siege Hero, it again does it the best.
Siege Hero [iTunes]