Review: Selknam Defense

It is as formulaic as it comes, and it could have done more with the setting then it does, but Selknam Defense is still a perfectly serviceable tower defense game, just a kind of bland one.
Review: Selknam Defense
Date published: Jul 29, 2014
2 / 3 stars

Selknam Defense is a tower defense game developed by the perhaps unfortunately-named Bad Games and published by Meridian4.  There certainly seems to be a bit of a rash of tower defense games coming to Steam lately - I've covered a few such as Space Run and I have all the more to possibly look at in the future.  I'd actually saved Selknam Defense for the end of the recent little bundle of them I've gotten, because the setting promised to make it at least interesting on that token, if on no other.

That's the first problem of the game: the setting feels squandered

For those whom might not know, the Selkam, also known as the Ona, were one of the indigenous peoples in the Americas when western settlers were spreading throughout North and South America.  The Selknam were a tribal group in the region we now call Argentina.  While I don't really know enough to say whether the costuming is historically accurate I doubt that it's historically accurate to have mad scientists with super speed abilities or magically-healing priests.  Yeah, don't get me wrong, they're gamey concepts that are occurring because yes, we're playing a game, but there definitely seems to have been a missed opportunity in the themeing and background of the game to use it as a platform to teach a little more of those people.  Instead it comes off as just the skin the game wears to try to stand out and be different - and there's nothing wrong with that, but the way to have done that effectively in this case is to have embraced that identity and done it service.  Here the only service it got was lip service, unfortunately.

The visual style of the game is very simple but effective

I'm not sure I'd lean too many points into this category, were I the scoring type, but to give credit where it's due the visual style is well-executed and rather charming in that decidedly mobile game way.  The artist behind it is obviously very talented and while that kind of style is something isn't to my own personal taste I'd be lying to say that it isn't done well.  One visual touch I really rather liked was the kind of way they explain those borders in a sort of gameboard look.  A neat little touch, I felt.  The UI is pretty well-designed both in visual appearance and and functionality, making the information available to you readily, not that you need much.

Likewise, the soundtrack, while nothing big and epic or anything like that, has some neat little flair to it that I found myself liking.  I'm no music critic so explaining why comes down to a certain je ne sais qois.  I think it comes down to the fact that it's rather melodic - which a lot of music in games these days actually isn't, and therefore comes off pleasing to the ear.  Simple but effective little ditties.

Selknam Defense plays like a mobile game: it's very simplistic in game play as well

That simple visual design carries over into the game design as well.  It's quite basic: you have a series of units which you place on a square grid field.  There are four basic types of units: a melee unit, an archer, a healer, and an interrupter unit (slingshot guy).  Each of these units have to special variations that you can unlock with stars (and it's always stars, as a great T-shirt once told us) and then two progressively higher tiers for each, again unlocked with stars, which are just objectively better statistical upgrades, rather than something a little more complex like "shoots faster but 

There really isn't a lot of engagement with the combat for the player

This is symptomatic of the simplistic gameplay and of a mediocre game design, because the game should engage the player in some way, and most of the time in Selknam Defense I was just watching and very occasionally moving the units around.  That's all there really is to do in the game while waves are going on: reposition units and spawn new ones. This, actually - specifically this - is why most tower defense games give you units special abilities, or spells/skills to use on the battlefield: it keeps your attention on the game and keeps you involved in it's outcome. Selknam Defense doesn't do this, and so its easy to find ones attention from it wavering.

Camera controls can be a bit janky

The one actual legitimate problem I had with the game other than just it's shallow and uncomplicated nature was navigating around the map.  Thankfully it's pretty small so this isn't necessitated too much, but getting the camera to move where I wanted it to seemed unnecessarily difficult to get around. You use WASD which is simple enough (albeit something the game doesn't communicate to you) but the camera seems to take those keystrokes as mere suggestions more than anything else. Had I a normal keyboard I might wonder if it was ghosting and give it the benefit of the doubt, but with a Steelseries mechanical keyboard plugged into the PS/2 port, I'm going to go with... probably not.

It is as formulaic as it comes, and it could have done more with the setting then it does, but Selknam Defense is still a perfectly serviceable tower defense game, just a kind of bland one.