Bloons TD 5 Review

By Kevin Tavore, 5 months ago
There’s something about the monkeys and balloons in Bloons TD 5 that’s simply delightful. Your cute primate friends come in all shapes and sizes from pirates to super heroes. Your enemies, the balloons, seem so innocent and innocuous — of course they would, they’re balloons. Yet the scenario remains: if the balloons get to the end, you’ll lose lives so your cute primates must do battle with evil. There’s no story, it just is the way of the world, and it sets a tone for Bloons that evokes a childlike sense of joy that just works. It’s a tower defense game that owns its world, knows its identity, and never lets itself be more than it should be. The result is a product worth the time of anyone looking for a little piece of happiness.


The gameplay in Bloons is simple enough. You build monkeys, which act as the game's towers, and then upgrade them to stop wave after wave of balloons. Balloons follow a set path so you can't create a maze to slow them down, but otherwise you're free to place your towers as you please. While the game is not an action tower defense game, you can upgrade towers to have special abilities you can trigger during waves and some towers do damage based on the location of your cursor, so if you're looking for an active role during waves it's there but not required. It’s simple but the towers and level design will keep you coming back for more.

The variety in towers is broad. While a few seem worthless and some are clearly overpowered, there's still room to customize your strategy to the way you want to play and still find success. While some may opt for a few central towers surrounding a hub that buffs them all, others may choose to spread their towers out across the land. Either way works on most maps if you have the right upgrades, though the first is still significantly better. Better still, the towers are so absurd that you’ll want to experiment and play with them all simply to see what they can be. As you play, your cannon becomes a nuclear missile, your pirate ship becomes a modern battleship and your super hero becomes a sun god. These evolutions are exciting and fun to use every time you get one which ensures you’re always happy to continue building to the next step.

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The game’s tracks likewise support the game’s tone and leave you happy. You'll play in all kinds of settings from the jungle to a factory to space. Each track has its own setup which means you'll always need to think about where and how you want to place your towers to ensure victory. Strategies that worked in one level might not work in others as enemies approach in different directions and you're often limited in space. This makes choosing the right towers important and each new level is always exciting as a result. With over 50 levels to play through, the game offers plenty to play and it doesn't feel like it overstays its welcome by repeating the same general idea over and over again. Even on similar levels the visuals will keep things interesting while different balloon paths mix up your strategy. Complimented by the towers, the result is a tower defense game with core mechanics that are always fun to play.

Customization does not end with picking different towers. You can use special currencies to upgrade your monkeys on a global level with things like increased range, decreased cost, and more. You can also upgrade all towers and your own character with modifiers like faster attack speed, weaker enemies, or double money. Most of these are minor buffs that you'd never notice, but the double money upgrade is, unfortunately, as powerful as it sounds: it almost breaks the game.

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The difficulty in Bloons seems to try to balance around making the game playable both with and without the double money buff. If you play without it and try to compete on the highest difficulty, you'll need to be nearly perfect to win. A sound strategy will be key and that's what makes a tower defense game fun though the severity of the difficulty is a bit too high. With double money the difficulty curve is ruined and it takes that challenge and makes it a dull, passive experience that simply isn't very fun. Later levels do get more challenging but it's never hard and it hurts the gameplay. Ultimately you'll need to choose between two bad options: you either play a game that's unforgiving and difficult or you opt to play a game that's far too easy. Even those that want a challenge will find it hard to willfully sabotage their own ability to succeed so the double money upgrade might as well feel mandatory and that's an issue. Still, make no mistake, Bloons is absolutely a success by any standard despite the iffy difficulty thanks to the quality of the core gameplay and the pure joy it invokes while playing it.

Outside of the main campaign there's also the ability to play cooperatively online with your friends wherein the gifting of resources ensures it really feels like you're playing together. On offer in these co-op modes is a ton of special missions and challenges to play through. The special missions are set in specific levels and will give you a scenario to play and master. It's very difficult without double money but even with it some of these can offer fresh challenge if you're looking for it. The game also features rotating challenges you can play to earn money and achievements. These challenges are similar to the scenarios except they are easier to play through. The extra content is a success that keeps you coming back for more Bloons even after the main campaign is done and that's something many tower defense games don't get right.

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Besides the difficulty, Bloons does suffer from some quality of life issues. The game is liberated from free to play mechanics which might force you to buy currency — in fact, you can't buy any — but its roots are evident. Challenges are limited and rotate over time in a way that makes it obvious they used to be important for encouraging daily play. With the game being paid, there's no reason not to simply make them all permanent at this point. Even worse, the upgrades are still tied to a secondary monetary currency. While you will get plenty of it while playing, if you're going for the completion you're going to need to grind as your income simply isn't enough for everything you'll need. Aside from the free to play problems, the game also doesn't make it easy to identify what a given upgrade for a tower actually does so you're left to either guess or stop the game and look it up before choosing what upgrade to choose. Eventually you'll learn what you like, but until then it seems needlessly irritating to need to look things up in the middle of the game.

While it’s no longer a free to play game, the achievement list sure looks like one. You’ve got the standard achievements for gold medals and platinum medals, of course. There are also achievements for each special mission. But the bulk of the achievements will demand a huge time commitment and you’ll need to complete generic random missions far too many times, not to mention popping 50 million balloons (a task that will take a while but isn’t quite as bad as it sounds) and getting all upgrades. I couldn’t estimate how long it will all take, but don’t expect a quick completion. That said, so far it appears the completion will at least still be fun.

Summary

Bloons TD 5 is a game that simply makes you happy to play it. Its quirky monkeys and cartoony setting deliver a tone that’s fun and it makes everything you do in the game similarly enjoyable. The tone is backed up with a huge variety of towers, plenty of which are viable additions to any arsenal, and a set of tracks that are visually interesting and have creative paths which force you to adapt strategies that may have worked fine on previous tracks. While a poor difficulty curve and some lingering quality of life issues related to the game’s previous life as a free to play title keep it from a perfect score, the end result is a game that’s a joy to play and worth time from any fan of the genre or anyone looking for a little happiness in their life.
4 / 5
Positives
  • Tons of content to play through making it a good value for the price
  • Variety in tracks keeps things fresh
  • Many unique towers that are fun to use
Negatives
  • Enemies are too simple and don't offer much strategy
  • Too hard without the Double Money buff and too easy with it
  • Remnants of free to play roots cause unnecessary grinding
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent 7 hours playing through the game doing nothing but popping balloons with monkeys. He collected 4 of 47 achievements for 115 Gamerscore. An Xbox One download code was provided through the ID@Xbox program for the purposes of this review.
Kevin Tavore
Written by Kevin Tavore
Kevin is a lover of all types of media, especially any type of long form story. The American equivalent of Aristotle, he'll write about anything and everything and you'll usually see him as the purveyor of news, reviews and the occasional op-ed. He's happy with any game that's not point and click or puzzling, but would always rather be outdoors in nature.
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