Much like a respectable bottle of riesling, or Guile’s Theme from Street Fighter II, role-playing mechanics can complement almost everything. A good example of this axiom was found in Defender’s Quest: Valley of the Forgotten. An otherwise conventional entry in the tower defense realm, the title extended the ability to nurture a roster of shielding fighters, wizards, archers, and healers, as well as provided a storyline which unified the entire experience. Likewise, the recent release of Winged Sakura: Mindy’s Arc infuses the genre with a number of design decisions destined to please players.
Once players download the 1063MB game, they’ll be ushered into Winged Sakura’s plotline, which uses a visual novel-like method to convey character conversation. The title opens with the eponymous lead losing consciousness, plunging both Mindy and her male companion, Seven, into a strange, multi-dimensional realm. There, the friends discover Mindy’s loligoth doppelgänger, Minzy, who explains that the two lookalikes share a mutualistic bond and must work together to stop a steadfast threat.
While the game’s attractive character portraits and the brevity of these conversational interludes are commendable, the plotline leaves a bit to be desired. Too often the title attempts to promote intrigue by promising post-battle exposition, but delivers only a scant bit of illumination before another encounter erupts. As such, the start-and-stop flow makes the tale a bit difficult to follow. Moreover, Winged Sakura’s components feel a bit disjointed, with the VN storytelling and in-game action unified only by a bit of on-screen dialog during combat. Ideally, cutscenes would reference the freshly fought encounters and enemies instead of just focusing on the relational developments of the game’s characters.
Fortunately, Winged Sakura’s hectic combat is engaging enough to keep your mind off any narrative-based transgressions. Although the game’s multilane playfield is poised to draw comparisons to Plants Vs. Zombies, Mindy’s Arc etches out its own unique path. As hordes of enemies tread from the right screen of the screen westward, it’s up to players to place defensive spirits to annihilate the antagonists before they cross the screen. But whereas the PopCap title had relatively persistent plants, Winged Sakura’s spirits are bound to a timer. Mercifully, three of the game’s four difficulty levels allow players to use the space bar to pause the action, allowing for conscientious placement of each spirit.
Unsurprisingly, the arrangement of your defense units has a decisive influence on the outcome of each battle. Some spirits like Sneaky Cats fire a succession of projectile reaching far down a lane, while Furys offer a devastating melee attack against adjacent foes. Others spirits, like the Leapie, create a protective barrier, temporarily halting the progress of any encroaching enemies. When coupled with a unit like the Magicat, players can even create killing traps, capable of delivering devastating amounts of damage to groups of clustered foes. Although Winged Sakura’s encounter start sluggishly, offering an extended tutorial that explains the title’s tenets, the action gradually comes to hectic simmer, tasking gamers with using the spirits synergistically. Like the best entries in the tower defense genre, Mindy’s Arc cultivates the sense of elation felt when throngs of foes are being fed through a well-oiled killing machine.
Feeding into this executional equation is the ability is the augmentation of spirits. Through play, your creatures gradually gain experience, increasing their base stats. Additionally, gamers can also supply their allies with both a weapon and an auxiliary item, feeding into Winged Sakura’s crafting component. Although players won’t be drowning in different offensive permutations, the developer prudently selected combat as the core focus of the game, keeping players from getting absorbed in the game’s menu screens.
Similarly, the protagonist can be upgraded as well. Each other experience level devotes a point that can be spent to unlock one of twenty active or passive abilities positioned across branching skill tree. Naturally, these capabilities can be upgraded, increasing the damaging power of a landmine, freezing all enemies for a preset period of time, or intensifying the capability of a shield-penetrating fireball. Keep upgrading Mindy and soon you’ll unlock the ability to shorten cool down timers and increase the recuperation rate of energy meters, allowing you to increase the size of your defense measures.
Undoubtedly, there’s a lot of lot of number crunching going on behind Winged Sakura’s action scenes. Remarkably, the developers display a masterful knack of balance. Although upping the difficulty level increases the potential end-of-stage bounty, it also intensifies the strength and severity of the enemy onslaught. Even though players can be statistically outgunned, intelligent unit placement and the occasional grind for experience and materials allows players to surmount any stage. If there’s a diminutive doorway wall lurking in the code, fated to discourage progress, I have yet to find it.
Beyond Mindy’s Arc’s appealing, manga-inspired character portraits, the remainder of the game maintains an assured visual delivery. Spirit designs seem inspired by Pokémon’s bestiary, offering iconic anthropomorphic creatures that are adeptly animated. Just as competent is Winged Sakura’s sonic delivery, offering a nice collection of harmonious melodies which seem inspired by souring role-playing themes. Running on Unity, Mindy’s Arc scales nicely, even proving playable on a featherweight-class, Atom-power notebook.
At first glance, Winged Sakura: Mindy’s Arc anime-inspired visuals and laned battlefields might evoke comparison to Plants vs. Zombies casual combat. Yet, in execution, the game is significantly more involved, requiring players to persistently activating new protectors and monitor multiple threats. A seemingly small change, this makes Winged Sakura much more engaging that the typical tower defense game and worthy of the fifteen dollar purchase price.
Winged Sakura: Mindy’s Arc was played on PC with review code provided by the publisher.
Developer: Winged Sakura Games
Publisher: Winged Sakura Games
Release date: November 7th, 2014
Price: $14.99 via Steam