Bloons Tower Defense is a game I’ve loved since I played it in the browser for the first time. There have been several iterations since then, and the game series has long since made it onto iOS. I reviewed the previous game in February, and when the fifth installment was put on sale for $1 a few days ago, I couldn’t resist grabbing it.

Bloons TD is a variation of the tower defense game type that you find everywhere these days. The idea is to put out “towers” with various powers, and defend a road from enemies coming through. In Bloons TD, the towers are monkeys, and the enemies are balloons. Originally, the idea was to pop the balloons with dart-slinging monkeys, but by this version of the game, that original monkey is mostly in there for nostalgia. You now have an arsenal of towers, ranging from the old dart-slinging monkey and the tack shooter, to massive Mayan monkey temples that literally consume every other tower around it to create a monstrosity that uses other towers’ special attacks as normal ammo.

As you probably gathered from that, each tower can be upgraded. There are two “upgrade paths” for each tower, and you can buy the first two tiers in one path, and the last two tiers in only one path (on a per-tower basis). Generally speaking, the first upgrade paths ends in a ridiculously overpowered, consistently powerful tower, while the second upgrade path ends in a less overpowered tower with a special ability that has a cooldown. To mention some abilities, the wizard monkey can summon a phoenix, the cannon tower a MOAB (Massive Ornary Air Blimp) seeking missile, and the sniper monkey an air drop. Some towers also have special modes, like flying towers that have different patrol modes, or a Gatling gun that follows your touch (a system that is quite useless on higher levels). There are also two special towers; A Banana farm to help you gather money, and a  monkey village that boosts the towers near it.

Aside from the tower/upgrade/ability system, you have both one time use “special agents” and various permanent upgrades you can buy. Special agents are sort of like abilities, some attacking balloons, some helping you do things like gather bananas. There’s also a system for “buying land” on the main screen to build buildings on it, which is just another way to upgrade the towers permanently. All these systems rely heavily on spending real money on in-game currency, because yes, the decease that is in-game purchases of virtual currency has come to Bloons TD. You’d think that the $5 standard price of the game was enough, but no, if you want to use everything in the game, without having to play 10 rounds to afford a single use agent in your 11th round, you have to shell out. For instance, buying the building that upgrades the super monkey costs $2500 monkey dollars, which is basically $5 USD. No thank you! There aren’t enough cacti in the world to inflict the kind of rear end pain I wish upon the person who decided to infest Bloons TD with the virtual currency virus.

If you ignore the constant nagging for “monkey money”, you can still get the odd upgrade and special agent through just playing, but it’s so rare for what it does that it feels like having a “every 100th coffee is free” card- it’s just not worth bothering with it. The game is still perfectly playable without spending more money than the purchase price, thankfully. If you decide to “play it through”, you’ll definitely be doing this for a while. Each level has multiple difficulty levels, and there are a ton of levels. On top of that you have special missions, where you for instance get asked to defeat 50 MOABs with only $50,000 cash (yes, that’s the third separate monetary system indicated by the dollar sign in this game- it gets confusing).

In other words, there is a megaton of content, but I doubt many people will get through even a fraction of it. Playing even a single round to the 65th level (where you “win” the game) can take a while, and I think most people will get tired of shooting balloons long before they run out of content. I guess that’s a good thing, but there’s something to be said for a game you can actually complete. I played through the original Cut my Rope and got three stars in each level, which too an appropriate amount of time to achieve. Some of these 2D arcade games are so simple to make content for that developers pile on until the notion of actually completing a game no longer exists.

There’s also a bit of a performance issue at higher levels. Since higher levels just piles on more and more enemies, there comes a point where lag is inevitable. The faster your device is, the further out that point is. On the iPad mini, round 90 seems to be the turning point. Rounds at that level are also so long that you can take a vacation in between waiting for them to finish.

There’s also another issue with this game, that’s also sort of an issue with tower defense games in general. The first 20 rounds are so beyond boring that including them is frankly an error in judgement. It’s not even about building up money, because you earn money so slowly at that point that it’s essentially pointless. Then you have 40-50 rounds which are actually fun, before the screen gets so crowded that you can’t see what’s going on. There are now three types of MOABs, each more powerful than the one before, but by the end there’s even 20 of those on the screen, and you can’t see what’s going on. At that point it essentially pointless to continue, and it doesn’t have to be that way. They could just give it a new color, up its health, and make sure there were never an instance like in the screenshot above. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a game where a higher difficulty ends up spawning two final bosses instead of a single stronger one, so I don’t understand why Bloons is doing it so backwards.

All in all though, Bloons TD 5 is a great game…for the $1 it costs during this sale. I’m going to recommend not buying it for the full $5 simply because of the in-game currency system, which is frankly so intrusive that the game itself should be free. Also, if you’re just a casual player, you’d be hard pressed to find this game very different from Bloons TD 4. Bloons TD is a great concept, but the addition of in-game currency just removes every bit of respect I had for the developer.

Download: iTunes