Forest Guardians (Free) by Jonathan Parsons starts out with a long introduction to the storyline, and I wish I could describe it, but when games begin with a rambling plot, I tend to skip it. I'd rather see the plot drawn out over the course of the game, but this one did involve a magical dying tree, faeries, guardians, and dark spirits.
Pretty standard (and boring) stuff, but the game does feature endearingly cute and creepy creatures, like Foxxie, who has black-tipped ears, big white eyes, and a cartoonish body. It reminded me a lot of PixelJunk Monsters.
This is a tower defense game, and if you've played any other tower defense game in the App Store, you will pick up the controls and the gameplay quickly. There's a world map where you select levels, and to build towers, you direct your guardian (Foxxie) to the spot where you want to build and then tap.
Since this is a forest themed title, you will build towers in the shape of trees and flowers. Despite its cuteness, this is a serious tower defense game, and there are other elements, like ECOs (Essence Combined Orbs) to add to towers for specialization and damage increases. ECOs are like upgrades.
There are seven different ECOs, and some add more attack power while others add a better range or a faster reload. This allows for a lot of customization with towers.
When your towers destroy enemies, essence will be left behind. You'll have to grab it with Foxxie (who is controlled by a virtual joystick). The essence is then used to upgrade your guardian. There are also faeries you can place, with abilities like collecting essence.
The onscreen display lets you know how many seedlings you have, how many you can build, the amount of essence you've collected, and the current and total number of waves. There's also a fast forward button so you don't have to sit by twiddling your thumbs while you wait for more enemies.
Actual gameplay is not bad at all. I enjoyed the complexity of the tower building system and it was suitably challenging without being too difficult. Every level has three stars, and while you can move on with one, getting all three is best. That takes some skill, though, so you will likely need to master levels to collect all of the stars.
Forest Guardians is a freemium title, so while you can play for free, you will have to shell out cash to unlock other characters like Shellie the turtle and Hip Hop the bunny. You're also encouraged to purchase stars in order to upgrade your characters.
Upgrades are complex. For example, Foxxie has a total of 129 different upgrades you can purchase, which range from decreasing the amount of essence needed for purchases to improving ECO abilities.
All in all, Forest Guardians is a fun and surprisingly deep tower defense game that's well worth downloading. It's not without its bugs (some freezing and crashing) but it is free and you can get through the entire game without making a purchase.