Holding Out Against a Hero

You see the icon, you read the name, you boot it up, you think Tiny Heroes is about deploying a diminutive unit to plunder the gold from the dungeon laying out there before it. Wrong.

In this game, you are a goblin, and your job is to marshal your resources to keep the Tiny Heroes at bay, much like Dungeon Keeper, the beloved PC RTS that turned the premise of plundering on its head.

Tiny Heroes (for iPhone and iPod Touch) is delivered by the makers of geoDefense, one of just three gaming apps (EDGE and Dapple are the others) to remain on my iPhone since I reviewed them more than two years ago. In it, your job is to stop the waves of determined dungeon fighters with floor traps, ballistas, giant "gorks," bombs and other tools in an increasingly desperate struggle to protect your goblin treasure.

Much like geoDefense, the action in Tiny Heroes builds to a fast crescendo, against which you will be touching and dragging any weapon of use to repel the human invaders. The earlier stages serve as a kind of extended, gentle tutorial, ingratiating the game to those who may not have much of a longevity with the tower-defense genre. When it's business time, though, casual players may expect to restart, and frequently.

Weapons serve to both inflict damage and divert enemy attention. Some items, such as mana crystals, both increase your resource pool (to purchase additional firearms) or set up attractive diversions (especially for wizards). There's no limitation on where emplacements can be made; once a hero sneaks into the treasure room and grabs a sack of gold, you can litter his retreat with ballistas, floor spikes and axe-swinging Gorks, provided you have enough mana.

That's not to say you should wait until the Tiny Heroes are making their escape. As with most tower defense games, your best offense is a considerate defense, well-armed at choke points on the maps given to you. At higher waves of difficulty, the game will dispatch multiple adversaries capable of breaking down your defenses—thieves can disarm floor spikes; rangers can take on foes from a distance; knights have tougher protection; wizards will smash your resource-giving mana. As with any tower defense game, Tiny Heroes demands a fast accounting of resources, quick analysis of the map, and an iron will against an often demoralizing onslaught, to prevail.

I was discouraged to see there was no means of moving, repairing [Correction: You acquire a repair spell in a later campaign] or upgrading my defenses in Tiny Heroes, either to cash in useless or misplaced defenses or fix up those smashed within an inch of their life by the advancing plunderers. Fat fingers also will deliver unintended emplacements unless their owners are very considerate. Once you set something down, it's permanent, so keep that in mind at all times. The good news is that the dungeon raiders will go out of their way to attack many resources, and all may be set up as roadblocks to slow their progress in and out of the dungeon.

Tiny Heroes is a fine tower-defense game that communicates its expectations clearly while still offering a nailbiting challenge. Its interactions are simple to grasp and tough to master. As a casual challenge, the $2.99 price point may seem a little steep. [Update: By coincidence, it has just been put on sale for 99 cents. That will last at least for today.] But true tower defense fans, and especially those who enjoyed Dungeon Keeper, will find Tiny Heroes' challenge worth the asking price.

Tiny Heroes [iTunes]


You can contact Owen Good, the author of this post, at owen@kotaku.com. You can also find him on Twitter, Facebook, and lurking around our #tips page.