Review by SneakTheSnake

Reviewed: 07/30/12

A 2D defense title with good production values and a fun use of the brand. Yes, it's a freemium, but it's actually pretty good.

It might be unpopular to admit, but I enjoyed Garfield as a kid. I watched the television show pretty often, as I recall and, perhaps against any sense of likelihood, Garfield merchandise and television specials are still going on. The video games based on the fatty feline are really not too bad, either, at least the ones I’ve played (barring that NES game everyone’s bashed on) and, fortunately, Garfield’s Defense is no exception. It’s not a blockbuster game by any means and, yes, it is a freemium title, but Garfield’s Defense captures the essence of the Garfield universe and offers up some fun, if not entirely by-the-books, gameplay mechanics.

Garfield’s kitchen, his sanctuary as it were, has been invaded by aliens. Yeah, aliens - little meatball guys who are bent on stealing everything in Garfield’s precious fridge. It’s up to Garfield and his cronies, including Jon, Odie and some characters from Jim Davis’ series U.S. Acres to defend Garfield’s house from the aliens. It’s extremely far-fetched for a premise for a Garfield game, seeing as, as far as I know, aliens have never been a major trope in anything Garfield-related, but here we are.

For a freemium game, it makes a surprisingly good first impression right off the bat. Garfield’s Defense plays on a 2D plane; you take control of Garfield, and it’s up to you to get yourself in the fray and take out the aliens one by one. You’re not alone, though. Popcorn is a common item drop and works as in-level currency to buy helper drones. In addition to picking up popcorn scattered across the level, your popcorn meter fills up during play. The longer you wait and allow your popcorn meter to build, the more powerful drones you can summon to the fight. Cookies act as the more important in-game currency and allow upgrades to Garfield’s stats, stats of your drones, weapon upgrades and even to level up your fridge (which functions as your base).

Each drone or assist acts similarly to what you’d find in a standard tower defense title. Booker the chick lobs baseball projectiles, Lanolin the lamb operates a catapult in the middle of the stage, mice act as upgradeable toast-tossing turrets and so on. Garfield himself has both a melee attack and a short-range projectile; simply tap on him and he’ll fire repeatedly in pretty quick succession. Garfield even has an inventory for two special defense items, which can be used in battle every once in a while, like dropping books on an enemy or revving an RC car directly at the bad guys. You can even summon Jon Arbuckle, who mows down your enemies with a floor buffer.

Cookies make the world go ‘round in Garfield’s Defense, and you’ll be spending a lot of them to keep yourself evenly matched against the ever-harder waves of enemies. Each level-up becomes increasingly expensive, and this can lead to some grinding on your part if you want your assist items, drones and even Garfield himself to be good enough for the fight. Earning cookies in the game is fine enough, and you’ll earn enough, even in losing battles, to gradually build up your characters and assists.

The game wants you to buy cookies, though, with your credit card; that’s entirely at your discretion. There were times in the game in which I felt so outnumbered that I felt I needed to buy cookies in order to survive. About forty levels in, the game starts throwing every enemy and the kitchen sink at you, all at once, and I felt there wasn’t enough of a cash flow in the player’s favor to make sizeable headway. It would take several playthroughs to upgrade just enough to barely survive the next stage; it’s not learning a new strategy or learning from your mistakes to improve how you fight. It’s just buying enough in-game currency to make enough of a difference in a battle. It felt sometimes that, no matter how hard you tried, the enemy forces were just too much and that, unless you grind for round after round, buying upgrades with your credit card would be the only way to get through the scuffle. So it’s buy or grind, people. The game gives you the choice, and there are even some ways to earn free cookies (by taking surveys or installing other games from the same publisher), but it began to felt grating.

The gameplay in Garfield’s Defense is good overall. There’s enough of a balance of action and strategy to make the game interesting; what you choose to buy and upgrade indeed makes a difference in how you’ll tackle the waves of foes. I feel the game had some odd difficulty spikes at times, sometimes punishingly so, but that may have just been how I chose to upgrade. It was nice, though, to see the characters from U.S. Acres be brought back.

The Flash-based graphics (as I can only assume they are) are also nothing to sneeze at. I really enjoy the 2D art in Garfield’s Defense and, while the characters don’t exactly have a vast array of facial expressions, the art stays true to the style Jim Davis has carved out for himself. The house backdrop is nice, and the enemies are well-drawn and certainly varied. It’s clear that a lot of attention was paid to keeping the aesthetic style in the game true to the original comic strip. I would have liked some variety, though, in the backdrops; each and every level takes place in the house. Perhaps they could have taken it into the yard, or upstairs, and included level-exclusive obstacles? That would really be my only complaint.

Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of tunes in Garfield’s Defense, so the music can get a little repetitive. It fits the mood, I suppose - cartoony, but pumping you up for battle in an odd way - but there are only two or three songs. The loops are of a nice length, but they become jarring after extended play. Same with the voice clips; the guy playing Garfield does it spot-on, but you’ll hear the same clips each time you win (“Congratulations! Cats rule!”) and when you summon drone after drone (“Cats take” - what’s that supposed to mean?) and various other sound bits. I feel I’ve heard the sound effects in various other games and cartoons before, so it seems the developers just plucked what they wanted from the “1001 Cartoony Sounds” disc they had in the office.

Say what you will about freemium games, but Garfield’s Defense is a serviceable product for something that comes for free. Difficulty spikes aside - and the way you can kind of exploit the game a little by clicking on Garfield every quarter-second to get him to fire, each and every time, at the enemy - Garfield’s Defense looks charming, plays serviceably and gives players plenty of options for items and upgrades. It’s interesting to see a tower defense game skewing toward the younger crowd, one which uses popular characters, in which the gameplay was fine-tuned, the upgrades really feel like they’re making a difference on the battlefield, and the graphics are top-knotch. Be prepared to pay a little if you want to stand a chance in beating the 60-level campaign without grinding.

Rating:   3.5 - Good

Product Release: Garfield's Defense: Attack of the Food Invaders (US, 04/18/12)

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