STAFF REVIEW of Bloons TD 5 (Xbox One)

Monday, March 27, 2017.
by Adam Dileva

Bloons TD 5 Box art There’s absolutely no shortage of Tower Defense (TD) games. On console there may not be nearly the amount as on PC, but there’s still a handful to choose from if that’s your genre of choice. Truth be told, there are a handful of decent ones out there but they are usually overshadowed by the sheer amount of poor to moderate Tower Defense titles. So while I like the genre, it’s hard to get excited when a new one arrives, as I tend to usually just expect the worst. Luckily, Bloons TD 5 surprised me, by quite a margin actually.

At first glance you’re going to assume that Bloons TD 5 (Bloons for short) is a tower defense game aimed for a younger audience, and I wouldn’t blame you, as I thought the same thing. I mean, how can a TD game based on monkeys stopping balloons from popping at their bases, wrapped in a cartoonish visual style, not make you think it’s based more towards kids? Well, you would be wrong, as Bloons is incredibly deep, much more than I was initially expecting.

While Bloons employs the same base mechanics of placing your towers (monkeys) near a path that the balloons take, tasked with stopping every one of them, there’s a level of deepness and strategy that really took me by surprise. I thought I was going to be done with it quite quickly, but it’s anything but, as I want to keep playing to level up. Bloons knows what type of game it is, plays into that fact, and is better for it.

If you’ve managed to avoid playing a tower defense game previously, the basic goal is to stop the enemies (balloons in this case) from reaching your base on a specific path. You do this by building towers, each with their own types of weaponry and attacks, though in Bloons your towers are actually different types of monkeys. Don’t roll your eyes quite yet, as I made that mistake initially as well. You earn cash for popping these balloons which helps fund placing more monkeys, or upgrading the ones already placed to make them even better. That’s the core mechanics of the gameplay, but what Bloons does so well is include a ton of towers, erm, monkeys, that have multiple upgrade paths, tons of different challenges and modes, and more.

I initially had my doubts about this release on console, as usually mobile and PC ports don’t go very well for numerous reasons, controls usually being one of them. On a mobile game you can instantly touch the screen to do what you want, but on console we don’t have that luxury, so I was concerned that having to use the sticks would make for sluggish gameplay. Well it turns out that developers Ninja Kiwi have managed to solve that issue, as controls never really become an issue after learning the basics. You have instant access to what you need and also even a way to move with precision when attempting to place a monkey in the absolute perfect spot.

As you're starting off you’ll begin by choosing which difficulty to play, and I highly suggest Easy until you learn the monkeys inside and out and have leveled up enough to have some bold strategies with multiple different placements. You level up the more you play, with each level unlocking a new monkey to utilize or a specific upgrade for them, so it pays off to continue playing, even if you manage to complete the generous amounts of levels included.

Easy will make you do 50 waves of balloon popping with only 200 allowed to pass to the exit. Bump up the difficulty and you’re tasked with more waves and less allowed to pass through. I thought transitioning from Easy would be simple, but you really need to know your monkey’s strengths and weaknesses to even have a chance at completing the higher difficulty levels.

A TD game is only as fun as its towers and upgrades are, and Bloons has no shortage whatsoever with over 20 different towers, each very unique and meant for a specific type of strategy. As you level up after a few hours of play time, you’ll notice that there are some imbalances, as some monkeys are simply overpowered and needed, whereas others aren’t as usual at all. Sure there’s a strategy for each type, but a handful of the more powerful ones are usually all you need in most setups. I tend to front stack the start of the trail, trying to pop as many balloons as I can as they spawn, but other viable options are to spread out your monkeys across the whole designated path as well, it’s completely up to you.

Part of Bloons’ charm is the monkeys themselves, as they are all varied, have unique abilities and are simply fun to experiment with. If you are truly devoted and sink enough time into the game, there’s even an area where you can purchase permanent upgrades by training them even further. The units won’t level up unless you use them either, so make sure you try to use them all, even if you don’t rely on it often, as you never know how amazing that fifth tier upgrade could be in the future.

The upgrades for each type of monkey is where a lot of the fun comes in, as seeing a simple cannonball shooter turn into a missile launcher is awesome, or your ninja monkeys upgrading their headband colors as they become more powerful from upgrades. A simple super monkey that gets upgraded heat vision is easily my favorite though. The visual upgrades are a nice touch and can make a big difference between success and failure. My only complaint is that you only get the description of what the upgrade specifically does when you initially level up, so if you forget, there’s no simple way to recheck it during a game (you have to go back to the main menu), so best remember what each visual represents.

Most monkeys first upgrade is usually based on more popping power (damage) or quicker attacks (shooting speed), but there are two different trees to work your way up into on each unit, each with 5 unique upgrades. The catch is that you can’t fully maximize each unit, as once you spend 3 points into one of the trees, that’s the only upgrade path you can upgrade to the maximum level. If you want the try the other upgrade path, you simply buy and place another unit down and upgrade that one differently.

The customization of the monkeys is much more in depth than I was expecting. There are even other types of towers you can place like a banana tree that drops bananas which converts to more money for you, or a monkey hut that buffs other monkeys in range in a variety of different ways. This is what allows for many different strategies to work and is a welcome addition to a usually stagnant genre.

There’s also a massive amount of levels, well over 50 I believe, so you won’t becoming bored with the same backdrop with repeat plays. They are really varied, from farms, to icebergs, hedge mazes, and even space. Some pathways are much easier than others, so there’s a lot of variety, not even including the difficulty options. Pathways with many U-turns and corners are great for the units that shoot out at 360 degrees, but not generally as useful beside a straight path, so the variety allows you to test new placements and strategies. Some levels even have pools of water, allowing your water-only units to be deployed for even more depth.

Other than the main campaign, there’s a ton of different and specialty modes which really adds a ton of longevity and replayability. These special modes are like specific scenarios that you need to try and complete for an extra mount of money and currency. My favorite was being given starting cash of $50,000 and using just that amount against a massive wave of balloons. It sounds like a lot, and it’s fun to have 100 times the normal starting amount, but it was incredibly challenging, yet a great change of pace when monotony kicks in after a long play session.

With a ton of levels, upgrade paths, units, modes, difficulties and more, there’s way more content included than I expected to have. I thought after an hour or two I would have seen and done it all, but here I am, many hours in and still tons of stuff to play and unlock. Easy mode allows new people to the genre to jump in whereas the harder difficulties will surely test veterans.

Given that Bloons was initially a mobile title, I have a feeling it had some pay elements to it where you could buy currency with real money to exchange and use for upgrades and other items. I’m glad to report that there’s no microtransactions like that included on this console release, but it seems like the groundwork for that system has been left in place, as there’s numerous forms of currency which doesn’t seem like it makes much sense using without that original economy. Getting the coin currency comes slow unless you want to take the time to grind for them, not an impossible task, but surely one that will need some devotion if you want to unlock the best upgrades and improvements.

I almost wrote this one off before trying it but came away shocked with its quality and mechanics compared to other tower defense games. Ninja Kiwi has done an excellent job at “consolefying” (yes, I just made that up) their game without it feeling like a poor mobile port, a fate that many games suffer from, so kudos for doing it proper. I was expecting an hour’s worth of content, but can easily see myself sinking in more than a dozen or two to simply do everything. Bloons TD 5 on one hand is a simple to pick up and play tower defense, but the more you invest time into it, you realize there’s a whole lot of depth to it, so don’t let the cute visuals and silly premise fool you, this is a very solid tower defense game that should be played if you’re a fan of the genre and been looking for a new title.

Overall: 8.0 / 10
Gameplay: 9.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 6.0 / 10


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