Game: Beware Planet Earth!
Developer: Lightmare Studios
Publisher: Lightmare Studios
Available on: PC Only (Demo available here)
It’s not hard to draw comparisons between Beware Planet Earth! and Plants vs Zombies. With a slew of identical power-ups, a similar art direction and a comparable sense of humor, BPE! straddles the fine line separating “inspired by” and “derivative of”. As a result, developer Lightmare Studio has concocted a game that has the same solid gameplay albeit with an all-important layer of charm stripped off.
STORY: Story isn’t vital in a game like this and if it was absent entirely, it wouldn’t really be reason to dock the game any points. That being said, the context Lightmare does provide is appreciated. The premise is simple: You’re a visitor to Barney’s farm which is currently under siege by Martians. To add to the chaos, Barney seems to be stuck in an outhouse. Fortunately, he still somehow manages to engineer weapons and other essential items in there.
In order to save the farm – and by extension the world – you must stave off the Martians as they march on Barney’s cows. It’s not a wholly original idea but it’s a noble and welcome attempt at entertainment and it keeps from being obnoxious. In fact, it even manages to be humorous at times.
GRAPHICS: Upon firing up your first game of Beware Planet Earth, you’re immediately overcome with a sense of familiarity. The game is riddled with vibrant colors and in the spring season especially, looks a lot like something PopCap or Zynga would have designed.
The characters and equipment are all drawn in a fashion that is sure to be inviting to Facebook gaming mothers or young children. The Martians especially, look like they would fit comfortably alongside a group of cereal box mascots.
SOUND: The music stands out as a shining example of what smaller, indie games like this should strive for. The different seasons in the game are represented by different, suitable arrangements of instruments and key. Spring for example, has a very lighthearted composition, comprised of soft flute tones and a xylophone, all played in an upbeat major key. Conversely, winter has a cold and unloving electric melody. The variation keeps the soundtrack interesting. Of course, anyone can compose a bunch of separate pieces and call it a soundtrack. Where Beware Planet Earth! stands out is with their persistent signature sound that binds all the game’s levels and menus together
This certain logic to the music is established through the implementation of popular sci-fi instrument, the theremin, recurring military drum rolls and threatening gongs.
GAMEPLAY: The levels are designed on a 10×9 grid and contain multiple crop circles which serve as entry points for the Martian horde. In order to complete the stage, the player has to set up enough defenses along the paths in order to prevent the Martians from grabbing up their cows. Even if they do manage to reach your cows, the Martian then has to return to the crop circle so the player is given plenty of time to manage the threat.
The defenses are standard fare for the genre, containing items that will slow, damage or blow-up on enemies. In order to build these defenses the player must first harvest cogs (think sunshine) through the building of cog factories (think sunflowers.) You’re even required to click each individual cog in order to add it to your resources.
BPE! isn’t completely without innovation, though. The game introduces a laser gun item that allows you to directly interact with the horde. This ability comes in particularly handy once the campaign introduces Incognito Martians, who are otherwise immune to the more traditional traps.
LONGEVITY: Beware Planet Earth contains an impressive 46 levels, a challenge mode and an additional 25 achievements to obtain throughout the single player campaign. Unfortunately, tower defense veterans will find the game unable to provide the challenge they’re looking for. Beware Planet Earth! rarely requires a great deal of planning even in the later levels. Honestly, if it wasn’t for the Incognito Martians, there would be a handful of times when you could safely leave the room and let the Martians and your traps duke it out for the remainder of the level.
Conversely, the relatively low difficulty serves as great news for newcomers to the genre, but the option to really ramp up the difficulty would have been appreciated.
VERDICT: It’s nice to see Beware Planet Earth! can recognize when someone does something right. When a major innovation is made in a genre, it would be foolish to ignore that success and I can’t fault Lightmare Studio for their copycat approach. There is certainly enough original material here to justify the purchase, though I would have liked to see a little more of the developer’s personality shine through. Unless you’ve played Plants Vs. Zombies to death and are looking for a change, playing Beware Planet Earth! can – at times – feel like a less engaging substitution.