In the 1991 Albert Brooks film Defending Your Life a recently deceased man must prepare for a celestial legal proceeding in which he must, as the name of the film suggests, defend questionable moments from his earthly existence, such as not asking for the raise he knew he deserved and the time he somehow managed to lock himself inside his car.
I don't believe in an afterlife, and yet in the two decades since I first saw this underrated film I've often found myself imagining how I might mount a defence to the divine for many of the things I do. Chief among them: How could I possibly defend the time I've sunk into tower defence games?
These voracious time eaters, which see players setting up automated turrets to mow down hordes of invaders scampering across the screen, have sucked up hundreds of hours of my life.
I think I could capably defend the time spent playing them while stuck in airport security lines and maybe even in public transit. However, if I'm being completely honest, the majority of my time with them has been spent on the couch, in the chair at my desk, and lying in bed.
The following list of ten of my favourite games in this genre may well be a cry for help. Please, try a few of them and then--if you can break away from them long enough--write back and let me know whether a credible defence is possible or (assuming I'm wrong in my atheistic ways) if I'm doomed to perdition for utterly wasting so much of my able-bodied life on such trifles.
Fieldrunners ($5; mobile phones, iPhone, DSi, PSP, PlayStation 3, iPad)
One of the all-time classics of the genre is available for a huge variety of devices. I recently rediscovered it on my iPad, perhaps the ideal platform for this brilliantly balanced maze-making game. Direct the flow of bad guys on foot, in tanks, and on bikes while ensuring you have anti-aircraft defences in main arteries to take down planes, helicopters, and blimps. It's stupidly habit-forming.
Desktop Tower Defense Pro (Free; Windows PC)
I wanted to include at least one of the countless free, low-fi tower defence games for Windows PCs that are so easily stumbled upon online, and the browser-based Desktop Tower Defense Pro is my favourite. It's lengthy, surprisingly deep, lets you skip from one level to another, and has a fun sandbox mode that allows players to customize a wide variety of options. Bonus: The human voice sound effects sound as though they were done by Biz Markie.
PixelJunk Monsters ($15; PlayStation Network, PSP)
You control a turtle-backed giant who wanders around forests transforming trees into towers. Pretty standard formula, save that you have an avatar that can be struck by enemies, causing you to bleed coins. A deluxe edition of this PlayStation Network game was recently released for the PSP that offers additional turrets and monster types. It's the better of the two, if only because it's portable.
Plants vs. Zombies ($10; iPad, iPhone, Windows PC, Mac OS)
This innovative little gem won loads of casual game-of-the-year awards in 2009, and with good reason. Using man eating plants, cherry bombs, spikeweeds, fume-shrooms, and dozens of other types of flora to knock the heads and limbs off of the stumbling deceased proves tremendous fun. The game seemingly changes with each passing level. I'm currently enjoying the iPad edition.
Immortal Defense ($10; Windows PC)
A psychedelic trip of a tower defence game, Immortal Defense features retro-style vector graphics and-dare I say-a fascinating text-based story about a man stripped of his body and left to float through the heavens, immortal, defending his home planet from alien invaders as everyone he knows dies of old age. The game's towers-dubbed "points"-are actually facets of our hero's personality and their powers reflect these traits (fear points lash out in self defense while love points bind and strengthen other points). It's an ambitious and surprisingly philosophical effort.
Defense Grid: The Awakening ($10; Xbox Live Arcade, Windows PC)
My favourite Xbox Live Arcade tower defence game (I haven't tried the PC edition), Defense Grid doesn't take many risks but it's traditional design has been expertly executed. Maps alternate between forcing enemies along a set path and allowing us to set up mazes to direct their progress. Plus, some levels have foes collecting the power orbs we defend and taking them back along the same path (think capture the flag) while others see them continuing to move forward to another exit. I felt as though I had to employ different tactics from one mission to the next throughout the game's lengthy campaign.
Savage Moon ($10; PlayStation Network)
An exceptionally challenging play, the PlayStation 3-exclusive Savage Moon is perhaps the best looking game on this list (though, admittedly, the genre isn't known for its award-winning visuals). One of its key differentiators is that players can boost their weapons, armour, or rate of income at will, but only one at a time, creating an entirely new level of strategy. Plus, enemies are smart. They'll either change their paths in advance of any blockades you construct or outright attack them. Place those repair towers carefully.
Starship Defense ($5; Nintendo DSi)
I covered this space-themed tower defence game in a little roundup of DSi downloadables I posted a couple of months ago, but it's worth mentioning again here. Its spartan, graph paper-and-pencil style visuals look great, and the ability to see the enemy types we will be facing seven or eight waves in advance on the DS's upper screen is a welcome advantage. It's one of the best reasons to spring for a DSi rather than just a regular old DS.
Toy Soldiers ($15; Xbox Live Arcade)
Toy Soldiers lets players move from one turret to another, satisfying the itch some of us have to be more hands-on commanders. It also carries with it the advantage of having a little more control over which enemies a tower targets. Its fresh and appealing vibe-we're basically controlling and fighting toys that have been set up in a kid's room-sweetens the pot.
South Park Let's Go Tower Defense Play! ($10; Xbox Live Arcade)
This licensed entry in the genre has players controlling the South Park kid of their choice (each has different advantages) as they run around familiar town scenes setting up towers to fight ginger kids, hippies, old people, Mongolians, and plenty of other recognizable villains from the show. I'm not sure there's much special about the game design, but the unadulterated South Park atmosphere ought to please fans of the show.
Follow me on Twitter: @ chadsapieha