The games industry is currently filled with titles that are trying to do a million things at once, and not in a cool way like the Yakuza series. When everything has to be the hottest live-service game with a battle pass to match, it’s important to recognize games that are just happy to be what they are. A game that can be fun without relying on addicting practices or inflated gameplay deserves special recognition.
The tower defense genre is one of the classics from Flash game’s past, so developer Frosty Pop’s attempt at the game is a return to a genre that many older audiences will be familiar with. Its newest title, Escape from the Red Planet, is a unique and simple twist on tower defense games, giving players a single objective to defend from monsters on an alien planet.
It’s a simple arcade experience that manages to mix classic tower defense mechanics with a variation on first-person shooters. It’s a unique game that’s difficulty sneaks up on you among the unassuming graphics and mesmerizing soundtrack.
A simple, yet stressful, arcade experience
There’s a lot of fun to be had in Escape from the Red Planet, and a lot of that lies in the simplicity of the gameplay loop. Players will start a new mission as Commander Abby, tasked with defending different relays while her computer ally completes the necessary work on them. The ultimate goal for Abby is to escape the planet in one piece, and it’s no more complicated than that.
The basic narrative of helping an astronaut escape Mars allows players to focus their attention on the actual gameplay while still giving context to the game. The actual gameplay is a lot of fun for being so simple, with the player starting each level defending a relay via two to six open positions around it, with those acting as the lanes that the monsters will come down.
The concept is pretty easy to understand, but even if not the first 10 levels or so take it easy on the player and demonstrate how the game works. As you progress through more of the missions, you’ll unlock more towers with better ammo capacity, but they’ll cost more as well. To afford these towers, you need to have invested in your solar energy production, which becomes a decision between preparation or offense.
This resource management aspect is challenging and often has the player having to make the choice between building a tower or investing in one more solar panel. While it likely won’t decide the battle, it can create a domino effect of consequences that becomes impossible to recover from. This on-the-fly strategy leads the player to learn and make changes with each new attempt.
The levels aren’t particularly challenging for a while into the game though, and that can be said for the Last Stand mode as well. While Escape from the Red Planet is very approachable, this also causes it to be a breeze to play through for the first 20 levels or so. It isn’t until you get most of the defenses that the game starts to really throw its full potential at you, but that might be how some players prefer it.
Using a controller is best, but still frustrating
Escape from the Red Planet seems like it was clearly made to be played with a controller. Whether it be the tutorial prompts showing one by default or the positions around the relay resembling the movements of a joystick, the game is best experienced with a controller. However, even then the game has its issues with controls, with one bad button press meaning death on some levels.
This causes the player to be much more methodical about the way they press buttons, and this may be intended. However, there are far too many instances where you’ll mean to spawn a mine and end up spawning a flying tower instead. Not only does this not do what you needed, but you may also potentially spend an extra point of energy that you hadn’t intended to use.
It’s little mistakes like this that begin to add up and can even cause you to lose the level, which can be frustrating if it happens multiple times in a row. There are already hours of fun in the game, it doesn’t need to be extended because the player makes mistakes because of the slippery controls. There’s no easy fix to this except to be very aware of each button that you push.
That isn’t to say that the controls of the game aren’t easy to use, and that’s part of the appeal. In the FPS segments of the game, it’s as simple as waiting for the cursor to line up with the enemy and pressing the button until the Martian bugs are eliminated. In fact, almost everything can be accomplished by pressing the same four buttons to either build towers or shoot in first-person.
It doesn’t feel nearly as easy using a mouse and keyboard on PC, so players should try the game out with a controller if they’re able. This will ensure the best experience since the game is ultimately an arcade experience meant to be played on a controller.