Tower Defense Standoff - GRave Defense HD and Fieldrunners HD

Grave Defense Small Town BattleI’m pretty new to the tower defense genre, I missed out on the first few waves of games including the massively popular Desktop Tower Defense, and first experienced it with Plants vs. Zombies, which is probably a sub-genre of its own. But since buying my Android phone, I’ve been exposed to a lot of games I couldn’t imagine myself playing even a few months ago. Two of those are tower defense games.

Fieldrunners HD and GRave Defense HD are great examples of two distinct approaches at the tower defense genre. Both are easy to pick up and play for 10 minutes, but are amazingly effective at grabbing you in for over an hour. However, that is where the similarities end, and it is their differences that really define them.

Both titles are available right now for under $3 on the Android Market, and Fieldrunners is also available on a wide variety of devices including iOS and the Nintendo DS. Here’s my short reviews of Fieldrunners HD and GRave Defense HD.

First of all, a definition of tower defense: defend some critical point against a horde of bad guys by placing unmoving weapons and support at strategic points. I guess that would be considered the minimum to be called a tower defense game. Both Fieldrunners and GRave Defense qualify, but they approach it in very different manners.

Fieldrunners allows you to build up a maze of weapons in whatever manner you like. The maps are generally barren and set up as a grid, and your job is to maximize not only the length the bad guys must travel to reach your base, but also the firepower they’ll meet along the way. There are usually one or two entrance points for the bad guys and then an equal number of exits, and you can lay out your defenses in whatever way you want as long as there is a complete path for them to travel on from entrance A to exit A.

GRave Defense takes a different approach, the maps are already drawn out with details and obstacles, and there are a fixed number of points you can place weapons. There are quite a few more entrances and exits, and monsters will take completely different routes from round to round. You’re not able to create elaborate mazes or even juggle the bad guys, the challenge lies in making sure you’re properly defending the huge variety of routes taken against you.

I honestly wasn’t even aware of this distinction in the genre, but my limited experience allowed me to try out two totally different, well polished attempts at tower defense, and after many hours with each one, I definitely I like Fieldrunners’ approach better.

Fieldrunners Blimp Battle


GRave Defense HD
GRave Defense HD Cover
Platforms Android
Genre Undead defense
Score 6  Clock score of 6
Buy from Amazon

But let’s talk more about GRave Defense first. The game takes place during a zombie apocalypse and is structured with campaigns and levels. Each level is a new map with new zombies to kill and new weapons to try out. As I said earlier, the maps are pretty well detailed and are supposed to represent the area outside bases, twisting city streets, or swamp-like areas. The game has a rather poorly edited story that is supposed to tie all the locations together, but I learned to ignore it quickly.

Making up a map are a bunch of potential paths, and you never know what path the next wave of zombies will take. There’s no way to block a path or force them down some other fork, so you’re simply building up defenses along the walls. Rather frustrating is that in the early rounds, you may build up to protect one or two routes and then all of a sudden zombies will stream down a completely unprotected path and you won’t have any money reserved to take them out. So you’re essentially always on the defensive, trying to anticipate where they might go and placing defenses in central locations that may not hit any route particularly well, but will at least fire on a majority of them.

The weapons are pretty traditional, with guns, flamethrowers, and slow goo shooters making up the main arsenal. There’s also Tesla Coils that have an area effect and are the obvious choice to deploy when available. You can upgrade each weapon many times and the exact upgrade is made clear before spending the cash (whether you’ll be increasing range, speed, or firepower).

Funds vary between flat broke and insanely rich, and you’ll probably be restarting each stage a few times to learn where to properly place your defenses. There’s a fast-forward button, but no pause (though you can bring up a menu, just not see the map while it’s in this “paused” state).

One of the more unique aspects to GRave Defense is the money and objects the zombies will drop. While the amount of cash to pick up is so piddly it’s not even worth it, sometimes they’ll drop temporary slowing devices or even free upgrades for surrounding defenses. The problem is that they disappear after about three seconds of being on the ground, and if you’re fast-forwarding there’s no chance you’ll get them. Odd decision to make them not persistent.

The difficulty of GRave Defense ramps up pretty quickly and I eventually gave up on one of the campaigns after attempting it a dozen times, sometimes I think I’m just not cut out for some game genres.

GRave Defense HD Overall: 6

And yes, it really is GRave Defense with a capital R. I guess the zombies are supposed to raving our of their grave?


Fieldrunners HD
Fieldrunners HD Cover
Platforms Android, iOS, Nintendo DS
Genre Towering defense
Score 8  Clock score of 8
Buy from Amazon

Fieldrunners seems like the much more traditional tower defense game, where you actually lay out the maze the bad guys are forced to travel through. There’s only four stages available, but a good variety of modes to try out along with some nicely balanced difficulties.

What I really loved about Fieldrunners is how the game teaches you through trial and error what strategies work in tower defense games. Is it better to upgrade a weapon, or buy more of them? All the math is available to you to crunch if you’d like, but of course there’s excellent visual feedback to see the opposing armies get mowed down before they reach the first corner. And then there’s juggling techniques that I discovered on my own, Fieldrunners made me feel really smart at times.

The bad guys are soldiers: some fat, some skinny, some ride motorcycles to speed through your defenses, and there’s tanks and airplanes to contend with too. The usual arsenal of weapons is available to you, without any great surprises, but they’re all well drawn and animated in a great cartoony style.

The general goal is to survive 100 rounds with larger hordes and more difficult enemies constantly ramping up. Everything about Fieldrunners is highly balanced: funds are given out in just the right amount and it also feels like some fast soldiers could break through your even extensive defenses in any round. I never really felt like I was cheated out of a win like in GRave Defense, even the time I lost on the 99th round!

Fieldrunners also has a fast-forward button, along with a full featured pause mode that let's you buy and sell weapons without consequence as long as the game stays paused. I really liked this approach to freezing the battle to rethink a strategy.

I enjoyed Fieldrunners HD quite a bit and am still playing it after making my way through GRave Defense. It’s highly replayable with advanced and endless modes, and the well designed difficulty levels never really put me out of my element. I wouldn’t mind for more levels or even a map designer, but this is a very well polished game available on essentially every mobile platform.

Fieldrunners HD Overall: 8