Tower defense is not for everyone. It’s a weird genre that, depending on the entry, requires either a lot of planning or a lot of patience, or a combination of the two. The mobile game revolution brought the games to the forefront of the casual marketplace, and for damn good reasons. Being able to fight of hordes of ENTER THING HERE and be a successful hero is intrinsically rewarding. So I’m not surprised to see that one of the most popular tower defense games, Bloons TD 5, get a Nintendo Switch port. Hell, it’s been ported everywhere else. The only thing I will say is that I’m shocked as to the quality of the port.
Bloons TD 5 is, as you may have guessed, the fifth installation into a series of games made by Ninja Kiwi. You may not realize, however, that the fifth game was originally published back in 2011 and the sixth version only came out this year. Why on earth would Ninja Kiwi choose to focus on an old entry and not the newest? Well, frankly, number five is where they really hit their sweet spot: the amount of time and investment with reward coming back to developer and player was perfected here, and there’s a reason that I chose to review this game despite having it on my iPhone: because it’s fun. I could have just as easily not reviewed the game and continued playing it on the long train rides when my Switch is at home, but I wanted to see how this console version played.
Bloons, as the games go, put you in charge of an ever growing army of monkeys with darts, and there are balloons you must pop. The balloons start simple, and then grow more complex, becoming multi-layered (more darts to pop them), camouflaged (invisible to some monkeys), armor plated (must be exploded before popped) and, eventually, turning into veritable zeppelins that release tons of balloons when popped. Let too many balloons reach the other side of the map and it’s game over. The monkeys, to their credit, have a nice variety to them as well, from dart throwers to glue gunners to magicians, pilots, submarine captains and superheroes. There are also monkeys with mortars, gatling guns and pirate ships, and so, so much more. I could write a ten page article just about the strengths and weaknesses of all the troops, but know there are a LOT.
Bloons TD 5 is probably a great choice for the Switch due to the sheer vastness of the game. While I haven’t played 6, I have a hard time imagining a game that gets bigger for tower defense than Bloons TD 5. Besides the number of troops, you also level them up in battle, getting new abilities that can be purchased per unit and activated. There are items that you, the player, can toss onto the screen in order to try and stop the balloons in a more active manner, and then the game really starts to get complicated. The money and tokens you get from completing a level can be invested in passive upgrades for certain troops for the full game OR to purchase single battle powerups that are much stronger but, arguably, less financially sound. You can even buy single battle use troops that aren’t available anywhere else, but could turn the tide very easily. Just for sheer versatility, Bloons TD 5 blows things like Field Runners out of the water.
Then there are the maps themselves. Depending on the difficulty setting, you could end up on a surprisingly straightforward design (a little twisting in the lane but nothing serious) or a huge number of balloons coming down the pipeline, from different entry points, at the same time. The maps are often peppered with well chosen obstacles, like tiny islands that only seat one monkey or, in the same vein, awkward patches of water that normal troops can’t deploy upon. Of course, this is the chance to really get some mileage out of the air and sea troops that you don’t normally use, and I do appreciate Ninja Kiwi making efforts to not just crank out the same map over and over and paint it a different color. On top of the design itself, each stage has multiple difficulty settings, with more waves, higher costs and less health with each ratchet up. You naturally get better rewards for completing the higher difficulties, but it’s not just a matter of patience: you gotta really work that strategy to get by.
That is one thing that I positively adore about Bloons TD 5: the level of actual planning that needs to go into it. For players who just want to reign hell over balloons, no problem: set the difficulty to easy, put up two ninjas, a cannon and a supermonkey and just watch everything drop. If you actually want to get to the coveted 100th wave and get a sweet prize, however, you really need to plan everything out. Making sure you have monkey villages spread around to increase firepower and negate the camo balloons. Drop exploding pineapples to try and slow down the MOABs (mother of all balloons) when they start to appear eight at a time. Realizing that YOU CAN’T PAUSE so you need to make flash decisions to sell troops, build new ones and keep fighting. All while keeping a nervous eye on your heart meter and praying it doesn’t drop too low. When you are in this game, you are IN it.
I hate to drop a but, yet there it is, and here we are. The Nintendo Switch is a portable console. It’s able to get up and go wherever you do, and it’s got the display and gorgeous firepower that you won’t find in most phones or tablets. So showing the big map like they do on the console versions, good, awesome. Ripping out in app purchase options so that you just have to work at the game to unlock stuff, some people might take umbrage but I prefer it this way. Having everything set up in the menu to toggle through with a controller, wonderful, I like that better anyways. BInding a bunch of commands to the controllers so that you can finely scrub across the field and essentially drop the monkeys in the blink of an eye when needed? Ok, cool, it works. It takes some getting used to, but it works, and the complexity of the game means no single JoyCon for when you’re doing two players. Oh yea, there’s two player mode, and it’s pretty frigging great, and I would definitely recommend it with two sets of JoyCons.
However, I hope you like those JoyCons, because there’s no touchscreen mode.
How the hell did this happen? How did you take a game, that got all its players and, yes, all its money, from smartphone players and then disregard that play style when bringing it to the ONE console that could really utilize that? It’s already bad enough that the game is going for fifteen dollars USD when it’s ten on Steam (which plays well with a mouse) and like five on the phone, but then to have it be “premium” price and surgically remove the one thing that players would seriously benefit from? Normally I try to be sympathetic with these things, because I don’t know a ton about development, but Ninja Kiwi has been milking this great game for going on seven years, and they couldn’t be bothered to put touchscreen controls onto the touchscreen console release? I wasn’t asking for motion controls or Amiibo support or whatever, I wanted to drag and drop my monkeys like I’ve always done, and I can’t.
It might feel like a bait and switch for me to gush about this game for paragraphs and then drop such a bitter bomb, but that’s how playing the game felt too. I got so excited by the design, and the size, and gave myself the benefit of a doubt to try the buttons first, and when I went to touch my game…nothing. There’s not even a toggle setting for turning it on, it straight up doesn’t exist. Bloons TD 5 will already be a hard sell on the Switch with 6 coming out shortly and the higher price tag, but the broken interaction might be the nail in the coffin. I really like this game, and I always will, but the Switch version is simply not the way to go, not for anyone. Only get this if you’re a ridiculous Bloons addict and need a new way to pop on the go….and every other device is broken.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.