I am a relative newcomer to the rich and seemingly diverse genre of fantasy games, and thusly I am not particularly well versed in their playing or the particular variations across the hundreds of titles which are available to the keen fantasy fans out there. I have somewhat struggled previously to even bring myself to get stuck into games which involve magic, battlements, orcs and wizardry in general, and don’t even get me started on the concept of Mana. It usually takes a game of excellent quality with features that span a variety of genres to tickle my fancy; I therefore looked past the robes and rich collection of various mythical creatures in ‘Epic Stand’, and much to my annoyance and dogged disbelief, I was very much entertained.
Sitting most comfortably in the genre of ‘defence fantasy’, ‘Epic Stand’ is as much a game of defence as it is of myth, magic and outlandish wizarding attire. It puts particular emphasis on the development of your magical ability, the imperviousness of your castle fortifications to various attacks and the relative superiority of the guards which defend your fortress. As a player you are thrown in at the deep end into a day in the life of a battle wizard atop a castle of modest size. The only concern for you is to prevent the various swathes of menacing intruders from reaching the top of your humble fortification and therefore conquering the structure which you spent so much time defending. Magic is your only weapon (aside from the defensive measures which are discussed below), and defence if your only concern; defensive gaming only occasionally gets more entertaining as this.
Incredibly cheesy comic-book –style introduction aside, the gameplay of ‘Epic Stand’ is solid, enjoyable and refreshingly simple to indulge in. Your castle’s structure is composed of three levels which are of course the target for the invaders which are sent in to ruin what would otherwise have been a normal day in the life of a stereotypically-dressed wizard who just wants to enjoy his retirement in peace. The only aim of the enemy is to destroy and conquer each level, move upwards and continue the destruction; lather, rinse, and repeat in this fashion until such time that the enemy reaches the top level and you will discover that you have all but failed in your attempt at keeping your castle free of violent foes and altogether nasty characters of diverse appearance and destructive tendency.
I mentioned above that your only weapon of significance available to you is your magic, and this was no lie. Your main spell is a freeze blast which at first merely damages the enemies in a fairly unimpressive way, but is a starting point which you must build from in order to progress to higher abilities of more fearsome power and impressive devastation. As a fairly aged-looking wizard, you would assume that by this stage in his career he would already know pretty much all there is to know about spells and wizardry; this is an incorrect assumption and you should feel as foolish as I did for drawing such a conclusion.
The controls are as simple as the gameplay itself, since ‘Epic Stand’ uses a point-and-click system to direct your defensive blasts against the enemy. Simply hovering your mouse over your desired point of attack and clicking the left mouse button is all you need to concern yourself with, and the occasional clicking of the different icons in order to switch between spells shouldn’t offer too much trouble for those capable of carrying out the most basic of finger-based motor functions. The discrete blasts of magic descend from the top of the screen onto the enemy; the blasts are not instantaneous, so it is essential that you time your attacks correctly as to let them come into contact with the enemy at the right time.
What makes the game worth pursuing in fact is the ability to upgrade your three facets of defence against the onslaught which are your personnel, your magic and your physical defences. Upgrades are only attainable by special purchase using the extremely medieval currency of skulls which are won by completing each stage; how well you defend your battlements on each stage determines how many skulls you are rewarded with at the battle’s conclusion (zero if you allow your castle to be overrun; better luck next time) and up to a maximum of three skulls. One extra skull is also available for capture on each stage by completing it on the ‘hard mode’ setting; naturally, this setting is only available once you have completed the stage in regular mode.
Upgrades to your magical ability are the most fun to achieve: Functional advantages like increasing your mana restoration by 50%, decreasing your spells’ mana cost and reducing the time between your frosty bolts are all available for purchase from a fantasy store near you. The purchase of new spells is also an option, allowing you to summon a large stone creature called Golem to battle your enemies, and eventually allowing you to purchase the ability to summon an ancient dragon which burns the enemies to a medium-rare finish.
In terms of defence, you are able to purchase fortification of your castle walls and floors in the typical fashion followed by most castle tower defense games, the building of fences around your castle and even some brutal methods such as boiling oil and traps, which were probably more acceptable in warfare before the proliferation of the Geneva Conventions. The purchase of the ability to improve the abilities of your guards is also an option, with the introduction of a ‘captain of the guards’ at the low, low price of five human skulls. As you can see, there is no shortage of upgrades to every aspect of your defensive powers; it is precisely this ability to develop throughout the game that augments its replay value as well as its addictiveness.
The variety of enemies which you must contend with throughout the game is nothing short of impressive. The lower levels of the opponent’s ranks consist of small goblins which appear relatively harmless but their continual dropping of bombs consistently undermines the fortifications of the castle with gradual yet visible detrimental effects. The orcs are another group of mythical creatures that possess medium-strength armour and the ability to directly attack the guards standing at all levels of the castle’s defences. Werewolves continue the fantasy theme by running with irritating speed across the screen and attacking anything in their path, while simultaneously looking suspiciously more like monkeys than a shape-shifting, wolf-like creature it is intended to be. These are particularly difficult to strike down with your magic due to their evasive movements and sheer swiftness of motion.
The resources of the enemy do not stop here, however. The offending forces possess shamans which are able to heal their recently deceased colleagues of battle. This isn’t so bad when it is only an orc that is brought back to life, but when the terrifying warchiefs are resurrected after having been freshly defeated, you can become very frustrated. Executioners possess irresponsibly large bombs, hauling them towards the castle in a carefully-constructed medieval wheelbarrow and threatening to ruin your entire operation by wreaking destruction on the surrounding area. The brute force of the ogres and bashers is something to be wary of and the stealthy assassins make life difficult for your defensive forces.
The most fearsome of all foes is the dark knight, which is the only enemy that can actually damage your wizard’s mana directly and who also has the ability to single-handedly destroy your castle. With the plethora of enemies listed above, you are tasked with quite the challenge when defending the castle. The sheer variety of foe is something to be applauded, with each type having their own individual movement characteristics and dangerous feature specific to each class of enemy. This kind of variety is rarely seen in games of this type, making ‘Epic Stand’ Bubble Box a game which offers more than your average defence title.
The game is not without its pitfalls, however. The skull system of currency is a little annoying and can lead to stagnation in progress if you are finding any of the levels difficult to survive. As a result of this, you could easily become stuck on a certain level and become unable to progress further due to the inability to win the coveted skulls and purchase new upgrades to increase the potency of your attacks and defensive efforts.
Instead, I am much more of a fan of the often-used system whereby you are able to play previous levels repeatedly and gradually amass sufficient points/pennies/specific currency of the game in question in order to be able to upgrade without reaching a choke-point in your progress. This is only a small criticism since it isn’t all that difficult to progress with relative ease through the levels and win enough skulls to be able to purchase all the necessary improvements to allow for your overall victory over the invading forces.
Another criticism I would like to put forward is the relatively short length of the game in its entirety. Though you are offered ten levels to struggle through, the game isn’t difficult enough to make these ten levels last much longer than an average flash game of its type. Even a few more levels would have increased the length of the game sufficiently to make it a title that offers more longevity than most.
On the other hand, there is the option of ‘survival mode’ (attainable by beating all ten stages in regular battle mode) which does exactly what it says on the wooden sign on which the words ‘survival mode’ are written. This mode is identical to the regular battles but without the feature of ending of its own accord; it only ends when you are defeated since the enemies continue to advance infinitely until your castle falls. It isn’t my favourite format of gaming, but it offers a little more replay value to the game which is only ever a positive thing.
The game is even visually appealing and refined in its appearance with smooth edges, well-drawn objects and intricate character detail. Delicate shading and stylistic flourishes serve to imbue the game with a unique appearance and a definite fantastical aura, making ‘Epic Stand’ a game that literally stands out amongst the many games of similar ilk in what is already an overpopulated and saturated genre.
Don’t count on ‘Epic Stand’ to get you through an entire afternoon of mind-numbing boredom, because the game simply isn’t long enough to be able to see you through until the evening. However, it does provide some decidedly addictive gameplay which is unique in appearance and entertaining in function. Developing your collection of spells, defensive fortifications and the abilities of your soldiers makes the game an incredibly fun activity to pursue, and in my opinion pushes this game to the foreground of the fantasy genre, leaving other games in the background along with the rest of the run-of-the-mill, dreary and frankly tiresome titles which claim to be of the fantasy genre. ‘Epic Stand’ was able to make me look past my disdain for all things fantasy. Bravo, gentleman at Bright Sight Team. Bravo.