For some creators and franchises, flash games were their first big break. Super Meat Boy/Binding of Isaac creator Edmund McMillen got his start in flash. Personally, for me, I was really into the Epic Battle Fantasy series by kupogames, even though there’s some things in it that I’m iffy on nowadays. However, I’m not looking at either of them today. Today, I’m looking at the successor to a certain tower defense series that you may or may not have played.
The Bloons Tower Defense games are made by Ninja Kiwi. In these games, you’re placing down dart-throwing monkeys and other adjacent entities to repel ballo – excuse me, bloon, invasions. That’s kinda it for plot. It’s one of those things. This sixth game is a huge upgrade for the series and its formula, changing doofy flash monkeys to cute 3D models who are fighting bloons with a host of new mechanics – for better or for worse.
Each stage has three difficulties, which affects the cost of towers and how many waves of enemies you have to fight through. Popping a bloon layer earns you a dollar, which doesn’t sound like much, but it really adds up with the sheer amount of stuff thrown at you in the late game. As expected of a tower defense game, you have to make sure as little bloons as possible gets to the exit. While the first batch of levels are basic, later ones introduce multiple paths for bloons to travel, ways for bloons to hide, limited placement areas, etc, so you’ll have to think more about your tower placement beyond just clustering them near an obvious choke point and hoping for the best.
There are multiple types of monkey towers to place: primary, military, magic and support. The primary monkey towers are basically the classics. Sure, they’re all 3D now, but I recognize them.
The military monkeys are weirder, working off of a bunch of unusual mechanics. There are two units that can only be placed in water, making them really situational. There’s the sniper, who can shoot at bloons from anywhere as long as they have line of sight, which means that those stage decorations actually matter. There’s a helicopter that follows your mouse cursor until you set it to chase down bloons independently. There’s a mortar that you can choose where it will constantly shoot. There’s a plane that moves in a ring whilst shooting darts in a bullet pattern, and could potential culminate in becoming a bullet hell ship in your favor. I actually think this set of towers is my favorite because of how unusual they are.
The magic monkeys don’t function as unusually, but their upgrade paths bestow wildly different powers beyond the usual “increase attack power, range, etc.” For instance, the wizard monkey could specialize in using fire that can damage bloons over time and create road traps, but you can also specialize them in necromancy that can create an army of undead bloons to help in the fight.
Then there’s the support monkeys. The engineer monkey and the spike factory are like auxiliary attackers, while the banana farm and monkey village are full support towers. The latter buffs towers and makes upgrades cost less, while the former produces money making bananas. They’re both expensive, but on the harder difficulties, they can be vital in catching up with the curve depending on how early you can get them out.
But there’s one more type to talk about: hero monkeys, who are apparently new to this game. So, you can unlock hero monkeys who pack a lot of popping power on their own while granting benefits to nearby towers, encouraging more thought on placements and synergy. The sole exceptions to this are Quincy (who can only attack and is only valuable in the early game because he’s cheap) and Benjamin (who passively helps you make more money). They also spout voice lines, which I honestly kinda think is annoying.
Kinda don’t know what to feel about the heroes. They got MOBA energy and I don’t respect that.
All monkeys have three upgrade paths. You can only contribute to two of a tower’s paths and you can’t fully invest in both of them. This keeps you from just building up completely busted towers and encourages you to think of a tower’s build and how to make up for the weaknesses. Like, you could have a bunch of basic dart monkeys specializing in projectile strength and speed, which makes them unable to see camouflaged bloons, but you can try to fill that weakness with a ninja monkey (who can innately see that bloon type) or try to get something with a passive that can take off that camouflage for the other monkeys to see.
On the more easier difficulties, Bloons TD 6 is a relaxing “numbers go up” game. With a good set-up, lines of balloons pop will split within a mere second, all the popping noises like a gentle crackling that’s just nice to listen to. On harder difficulties, it’s, well, actually pretty hard. On hard mode, there are some rounds that explicitly feel like a check to see if you can actually keep up, like a round that throws a bunch of camoflauged lead bloons that will easily break through and lose you the game if you don’t have the right set-up to counter it.
Upon beating the first iteration of a stage, you can advance to a version with a modifier. A common modifier is making you play the stage with only one set of monkeys, forcing you to get familiar with the different types and how they synergize with each other. I think the most challenging one (at least out of the ones I played) in the game is the one where there’s no breaks between waves, because besides the stress of having to deal with a neverending deluge of bloons, there’s also the fact that you no longer get the round clear bonus cash, so you’re dealing with more with less. So hey, there’s a lot of things to play around with, if you’re one of those people that love sheer amounts of Content(TM).
When you first start playing Bloons, things will be a bit hard because hey, guess what, there’s arbitrary experience systems. All those tower upgrades I mentioned earlier have to be unlocked through having towers grind up on experience across multiple games. Furthermore, you don’t have a lot of monkeys available at the start, either. You have to level up your own personal level to earn new monkeys, which just feels wrong, to me.
In general, there’s a lot of modern design trends in Bloons TD 6 that feel… off. When you’re out of monkeys to unlock, you instead earn “Monkey Knowledge” for level ups and oh look, you got a grand overall tech tree! Actually, no, you got tech trees for each monkey type! Gotta invest in those tech trees! Gotta level up those monkeys! It can’t just be a plain tower defense game anymore, it’s gotta have artificial long-term goals to keep you playing, because you can’t just play things for the sake of playing them anymore! Speaking of which, hey, here’s daily rewards to keep you logging in!
And of course, there’s Monkey Money, the game’s freemium currency that you earn from doing stages for the first time. You use the cash to buy heroes, hero skins, powers, continues, etc. Unable to earn that stuff or just impatient? Well, you can always fork over real money! I’m not going to go all Jim Sterling here, because we get it, microtransactions are bad. Shut up already, dude.
Like, look, I play gacha games, and said gacha games have all these trends I mentioned in one way or another, but it works within the nature of those games because they’re roulettes for horny people. But this is a tower defense game where you place funny monkeys around the place, but now it’s stuffed in the shell of a freemium puzzle game. Not only does it feel really off, but also, its aesthetics have probably attracted a few kids to play it, who will have surely bought into the microtransaction nonsense this game presents.
I don’t know. This may seem like nitpicking to you, but it all just feels wrong to me. A good tower defense game doesn’t need these extra things, especially with the amount of content that’s already there. It all just feels tacked on, conforming to modern standards for the sake of doing so or for perpetual revenue.
That said, there is one modern piece of game design that I welcome and it’s dailies. Bloons TD 6 offers two dailies, which places you in a stage with a set monkey load-out, set upgrade paths and sometimes conditions. I enjoy dailies in games because they keep your interest in a way that doesn’t feel forced. They’re like, “here’s a nice designed challenge for you, do your best,” and I think that’s a nice part of Bloons TD 6.
I don’t hate Bloons Tower Defense 6. In fact, I like it a lot. I guess my problem is that its soul feels compromised, if that makes sense? It’s truly a modern game that’s evolved from its flash roots – and it includes the blemishes of modern gaming to boot.