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In Which You Play As A Tree: Bonsai Defense

Trees are pretty much the greatest. They house wonderful woodland creatures, look very pretty gracefully swaying the breeze, and produce oxygen so we can watch them sway in the breeze without dying. Bonsai Defense, then, lets tree huggers like myself take the next logical step: becoming a tree. Life as a giant leafy tribute to nature's might, however, isn't as glamorous as you might assume. For instance, did you know that trees are constantly besieged by infectious neon bug creatures that travel via some form of trans-dimensional portal? Me neither, but thanks to Bonsai Defense, I'm now truly enlightened. A few thoughts on this freebie after the break.

Bonsai Defense is, at its core, a tower defense game with a nature-themed twist. Each bud on the tree can be transformed into a number of defensive or point-generating plants, with the end goal of amassing enough nectar to beat each level. But, while flowers spit out gooey gobs of nectar en mass, they also attract bugs. So it's a tricky balancing act, but standard tower defense staples like a quick-shooting plant, heavy hitting tendril, movement-slowing spiderweb, and, er, bomb even the odds a bit.

Those, however, won't do anything except sway gracefully in the breeze without vigor, which is produced by generator plants and travels up and slowly travels up and down the tree. And then there's the added wrinkle that bugs can infect branches and plants, which can and will consume the entire tree given time. And how do you cure the infection? Well, lopping off the offending branch is a good place to start.

Sound complicated? Well, there's definitely a lot to take in. And that brings me to one of Bonsai Defense's biggest issues: the tutorial just sort of dumped everything on me all at once. Instead of introducing its myriad mechanics gradually and then letting me learn their ins-and-outs one-by-one ala, say, Plants vs Zombies, it decided to just tell me everything via menu screens and not really show how these systems interacted.

Then, after my brain felt like a mix between a biology major with horrible study habits and a Double-Stuffed Oreo, Bonsai Defense presented me with my first wave of bugs. So I frantically bounced around between different parts of my tree bestowing the gift of life on everything I could in an attempt to figure out what each plant actually did in practice. Eventually, I got the hang of it, but it certainly wasn't intuitive.

Moreover, a general lack of feedback meant that pure chaos could take root before I even noticed its smoky tendrils worming their way up and down my branches. I could've been off tending to one area of the tree, and - though a timer did warn me of each new enemy wave - I could only really follow bugs' progression by physically maneuvering my floating camera to their location.

Meanwhile, a number of visual elements - for instance, red lines, smoke trails, glowing orbs, etc - clued me in to intended enemy paths, infections, and the general health of my tree, but all the lights and colors threatened to overwhelm. I mean, I do admire Bonsai Defense's determination to keep everything abstract and stylish, but it goes a bit too far in that direction, which often makes it difficult to keep track of exactly what's going on.

Bonsai Defense is, however, still a very clever and gorgeous production - especially considering that it's a one-man show. I actually found it pretty enjoyable once I got into the general rhythm of things, even if that did take a little while. I definitely recommend at least giving it a shot, if only because I don't imagine, say, Call of Duty will be having a towering oak bark orders at you any time soon. I would like to think I'm better than that pun, but nope. That is definitely right about where I'm at.

Thanks, Indie Game Magazine.

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