Arrrrrrg. That's the noise that pirates make and it's also the noise I make whenever I hear about a new "tower defense" style game. BUT (and this is a big juicy butt), I commend the developers at Pencel Games for recognizing a platform that is essentially void of this popular and saturated genre - saturated because it's damn fun when done right, I must admit. I don't see an end in sight either.
Yes, strangely Xbox Live Indie Games has no pure standout tower defense game and I've always secretly wondered when we'd see an attempt to sell this drug on the Xbox Live street corner. I theorized that we'd get a quick-and-dirty, PC-ported attempt. Horn Swaggle Islands is not a port though - it's an original and deep tower defense treasure that I hope doesn't get buried. (buried treasure, get it? ahem)
Jumping right in to HSI, (or as I like to call it, "H to the Izzy") you'll notice the simple and effective graphical style, and the appropriately styled music and SFX. I actually really liked the simple voice-over work on the incoming pirates - small touch, big gain. Players are given a tutorial which is helpful, and most people will understand the basic goal of the game, even if the intricacies take a little getting used to. Build towers/turrets to kill waves of inbound pirates who are trying to get from A to B, got it?!
Inherent to the genre is a sort of "casual strategy" as you set up your fortifications and then watch and react to the inbound enemies. Choosing different weapons and upgrades adds to the feeling of customization and progress. It's undoubtedly addictive and entertaining, and HSI fits this description well too.
Horn Swiggles is also one of the deeper tower defense games that I've played, despite not being the flashiest or most unique. There's a great deal of strategy that goes into creating a maze-like route that most effectively leads the pirates through your gauntlet of guns. Allowing players to customize the targeting AI of each turret, and move around turrets on the fly favors those who really like to break down a game and get rooted in the strategy.
Another huge bonus and a main reason I rated this game highly is the sheer amount of game-hours you'll be granted. There are tons of maps to play, and each map will take hours to perfect and complete (especially if you have the cajones for the highest difficulty level). They are well designed to offer different challenges and strategies, like navigating through a series of small islands or guarding the perimeter of one larger island.
I have a couple minor issues that are not deal-breakers but might have been resolvable. First, the default (middle) difficulty level is actually REALLY hard. Don't expect the first 4 unlocked levels to be easy or provide the usual walkable learning curve - it was pretty merciless, which I suppose is the pirate way. But still, for a more casual genre the difficulty felt pretty hardcore, and you'd expect a difficulty curve, not cliff. Second, the interface gives me some fits. It's not an easy chore to translate something that works so nicely with a point-and-click style of play, so I sympathize. Because the game is so hard and seems to require some on-the-fly maneuvering, I found the interface to be too slow, small, and awkward to get that done - so frustration set in a couple of time.
All and all, HSI brings a highly strategic and addictive genre to a platform that was thirsty to drink the tower defense juice. I recommend this to any tower defense fans, or the three other people who may have never played one before. At 400MP, and 30+ housr of gameplay (in my book anyhow), it's a good deal.