Play With Toys Past Bedtime in Wind-Up RobotsS

The appeal of Wind-Up Robots is rather simply understood, for kids young and old who have played with toys and personified their actions. In this sweet-hearted tower-defense title for iOS and the Kindle Fire, by Soma Games, the toy box supplies a force of earnest, mechanical friends who guard a sleeping boy against the midnight forces of under-the-bed monsters, and guarantee his safe rest while his father's away.

Soma Games, of Newberg, Ore., may be a familiar name to some Kotaku readers. Its founder, Chris Skaggs, is an organizer of the Christian Game Developers Conference, which I attended and profiled back in July. Skaggs was working on Wind-Up Robots then and showed me a very early build of the game between panels.

That requires a standard disclaimer Soma presents on its own website: This game, like others Soma has made, has nothing to do with Christianity, or with any religion, even allegorically. It also means this game's been under construction—past conceptual stages—for more than six months.

Wind-Up Robots is about a kid named Zach who is staying with his grandpa while his dad is deployed with the military. Sleeping through the night is tough because of monsters, ones we all thought lived in the closet and under the bed when we were that age. Zach's kindly grandpa gives him a force of toy robots, whose weaponry—light—dispels the monsters and keeps them from bothering Zach. The game has keep-a-secret themes of wonder and magic, called into play by real conflict.

Your job is to deploy the robots, and the field of battle is the surface of the bedspread (the venues change as you progress, introducing obstacles, cover and choke points). Monsters spawn at the foot of the bed. Your job is to keep them from reaching Zach's head.

Wind-Up Robots has a recognizably orthodox tower-defense balance. Some of your implements move faster; others are slower, but have better firepower. Firing rate is inversely proportional to firepower. Some battlefield assets only work against specific threats (like the airborne pterodactyl monsters). The action is open-ended enough that you're not dealing with a pure puzzle solution to repelling the enemy waves.

It can get pretty hairy and desperate even in the early stages. You direct a robot to its place on the bedspread by touching it in the toybox and then touching the spot where you want it to move. It will then start at the pillow end of the bed and waddle up, engaging anything in its way, so your strategy is less one of position and more of path, which is on you to visualize. I preferred to fan out my slower, slugfest units to the front and leave my faster attack bots in the back to catch those that found holes in the defense.

When your unit suffers damage, touching it and then the toybox (located by Zach) returns it to be repaired, and you can drag in a reserve while it's shuffling back, without waiting for it to return. This requires a strategy of constantly moving your assets—deploy, repair and relieve—rather than tower defense's typical mechanism of fixing something where it was built.

In any case, moving to the extreme end of the bed is a bad idea because overpursuit will often leave a t-rex, triceratops, or other adversary unabated to Zach's face, like a punt returner outrunning the helpless coverage. You'll have a very difficult time catching those threats from behind, so keep a clear head and understand this is defense, not offense. Zach's also a big boy and can suffer a lot of attacks before you fail the level and have to start over.

Wind-Up Robots is a universal app on the iOS, meaning the buck you spend puts it on the iPhone and iPad if you own both. (The Android version, also a dollar, is made for the Kindle Fire.) That's commendable, but the game is clearly designed for the larger screen of an iPad or an Android tablet. The biggest limitation of the smaller-screen version is in your view and control; fat-finger misfires were pretty common given the smaller relative size of the characters on my iPhone. Some rotated or zoomed views also left the toybox out of reach for fast-twitch repair decisions. On a larger device, the manual camera can be positioned more precisely, and the larger view means there's less of a need for pinch-zooming.

The dollar-only base price is also because of the game's monetized upgrade system, in which you can either earn coins through gameplay to trick out your robot force, or buy them up in-app to get a leg-up on what are some rather tough early stages otherwise. It is still playable without buying extra stuff, but it will take plenty of trial-and-error against an increasingly tough assault.

Though I didn't prefer Wind-Up Robots on the iPhone, it is playable there with some persistence. The game's strengths become apparent on an iPad (or Kindle Fire) and it is recommendable to those with either. Wind-Up Robots layers a creative premise, mechanics and set decoration on an accessible structure, though it poses a formidable challenge. Still, its innocence and novel approach should appeal to young-at-heart tower-defense fans who want grandpa to read them a new bedtime story.

Wind-Up Robots [iTunes App Store]

Wind-Up Robots [Kindle Fire Edition]