The truth is that I’ve never really been into tower defense games, oftentimes turning my nose up to them as little more than mobile games. I’m exaggerating a bit, but part of me felt they were not experiences fit for my shiny next-gen video game console, with all those teraflops, mind you. I decided to take a chance on Towers and Powers for PlayStation VR2 because of my previous experience playing Moss on Sony’s VR rig. The two games have next to nothing in common, other than they come from genres I typically shy away from, but Moss opened my eyes to the power that virtual reality has to transform some genres and gaming tropes from “meh” to “magnificent”. Towers and Powers has moved me in a similar way with respect to tower defense games; to the point that I would argue that virtual reality is the definitive way to enjoy a tower defense romp. All of which is to say that Towers and Powers brilliantly executes on its simple premise with a surprising amount of depth and is one of my favorite PS VR2 games of the year.
Towers and Powers’ setup is simple – a mythological beast has invaded the world’s islands, filling them with all manner of monsters that you must fend off. The creatures are ripped out of Greek mythology, and I was surprised at how often, as well as how late in the game that new ones kept getting added to the roster of enemies. The basic cannon fodder enemies include zombies and their variants, but there is also shamans that will heal surrounding enemies, mage-likes that summon more zombies, and hulking anthropomorphic turtles that will knock entire sections of your towers across the map. In other words, the game does a great job of keeping you on your toes from start to finish. That might seem like a no-brainer, but for such a straightforward game, the care given to things like enemy variety helps keep Towers and Powers an engaging experience across its 15 levels and approximately 10 hours.
The act of defending your tower (which is a rendition of the Parthenon) plays out like most tower defense titles – purchase and place units around the level to destroy enemies efficiently and effectively before they reach your base. Being in virtual reality does wonders for Towers and Powers, but so too does good design. Each tower can be one to three stories tall, comprised of any combination of individual units that you see fit. So, for example, you can have a tower with three peasants (archers) that shoots arrows extra quickly. Or perhaps a tower with a peasant, a Viking, and an engineer that deals lots of damage at an increased rate of fire but also chains lightning between three enemies for good measure. There are numerous combinations you can tap into to thwart the enemy’s advances and sometimes you will need to adjust on the fly, especially in the later stages.
Units are purchased with gold earned by slaying monsters, and are placed on the map by grabbing them with either hand and squeezing the trigger to drop them on designated building spots. You can place multiple units on top of each other, with the top unit manifesting itself as each tower’s attack type, while the units below it adds their passive bonuses. I found that each unit type had its time and place. Sometimes I needed the defense-lowering capabilities of the monk’s explosive barrels to give my Viking axe-throwers downstream an easier time killing bad guys. Other times I needed the sheer attacking speed of a triple-stacked archer tower. There are so many strategies for each level that I doubt any two players will approach them the same exact way. Units aren’t used just in towers either, as they can also be placed out on the map itself to act as melee units and roadblocks to the attackers. I can’t tell you how many times dropping a couple of Viking warriors in front of my base saved me from a last-minute defeat.
Losing isn’t a huge worry until the later levels on the standard difficulty, though there is an easy difficulty and a couple of higher ones if you’re really looking for a challenge. With that said, I felt the challenge was fair and balanced. Some levels have large mini-boss enemies that will destroy your base in one fail swoop if you let them, while the later levels ramp up the number of portals enemies can spawn from, as well as introduce more advanced enemy types that will likely have you repeating a wave or two – or five. Not that I would know anything about that.
When things get hairy in the heat of battle is where the “powers” part of the equation comes into play. Magical orbs will frequently fly across the screen as gifts from the gods to aid you in your time of need. These can be grabbed with either hand and thrown on to the map to help turn things in your favor. The orbs range from a fireball to a slowing freeze, to a healing aura for on-foot units. But the true gods-send are your spells, which can decimate enemies and single-handedly (literally) end a tough wave of enemies. Spells are cast by drawing various symbols with your right hand and pack an even larger punch than the standard orbs. Drawing a circle on screen calls down a barrage of fireballs, for instance, or an hourglass motion slows time to a crawl. Mana regenerates over time and by bursting mana orbs flying across the sky, but I tried to hang on to spells as a last resort – typically for the last wave or two of a level, when it could be absolute chaos. More spells are added to your repertoire as you progress, though, beyond memorizing their patterns, I never could find a reference or codex entry for how to cast each one. Which was a real bummer because it meant that I didn’t utilize several spells beyond the three I could remember. Regardless, the spells I did internalize got me out of many a sticky situation.
Along those lines, the game does a terrible job of explaining the criteria for its star rating system, where it awards you a certain number of stars after completing each level. Sometimes I earned zero, sometimes one, sometimes two, sometimes three – which appeared to be the maximum amount. The ability to replay levels and earn three stars is certainly a welcome feature to extend the life of the game, but it needs to be better explained. It’s obvious that the star rating is tied to the health of your base at the end of the level, but the thresholds for each are not explicitly outlined. Completionists will be especially annoyed by this oversight considering that each of the 15 levels includes up to eight waves to survive. If you’re just taking shots in the dark at a three-star run, you’ll probably want to snap your headset in half if you get all the way to the end and unwittingly didn’t make the grade.
Still, those are relatively minor issues in the grand scheme of what Towers and Powers brings to the table. They can, and hopefully will be fixed with a post-launch patch. Even if it never comes, I can still easily recommend the game to every PS VR2 owner. It’s easy to pick-up, hard to put down, and comfortable to play for long play sessions. Being in virtual reality has a transformative effect on the game, letting you engage with your units and each level in a tactile way that simply can’t be done when played on a traditional screen. In the way that Moss showed me platformers are best played in VR, Towers and Powers has shown me that tower defense games are likewise best in VR. It was a metaphorical dart throw for me in terms of selecting it as a game to review, but I can’t tell you how pleased I am to have taken a chance on Towers and Powers, as it has become one of my favorite experiences on PS VR2.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Jason has been writing for Gaming Nexus since 2022. Some of his favorite genres of games are strategy, management, city-builders, sports, RPGs, shooters, and simulators. His favorite game of all-time is Red Dead Redemption 2, logging nearly 1,000 hours in Rockstar's Wild West epic. Jason's first video game system was the NES, but the original PlayStation is his first true video game love affair. Once upon a time, he was the co-host of a PlayStation news podcast, as well as a basketball podcast.View Profile