Feature Art

TowerMancer PC Review

I’m not sure why it stuck with me so much but I remember playing the TowerMancer demo very fondly. It was back in February, 2021, as the first entry in my second ever Dem-OH! Dash stream (where I play through as many demos as my time allows and generally just have a good time trying out a bunch of new and interesting games). I had woken up early to make the most of the Steam Next Fest and I guess it just so happened to be the perfect little starter game. The straightforward but rapid administration of sending workers to gather resources and building towers according to mission objectives is light fun but with just enough going on to keep players engaged, through the use of natural disasters and different types of attacking enemies that wreak havoc on your beautiful handiwork. Landing somewhere between a management game and a real-time strategy (RTS) gives this one a unique feel and it can be incredibly morish in nature due to its cutesy simplicity and ease of play. Sadly, however, the full title runs into a myriad of problems that generally hold it back – oftentimes leading more to frustration than fun.

You are ‘TowerMancer’, one of many children spawning from The Lich, a powerful mage; and the Lichmancer, an equally powerful necromancer. Your siblings include ‘ForgeMancer’ and ‘CookMancer’, and just as you are the best at building towers they are the best at forging iron and cooking spaghetti. There’s also probably ‘DJMancer’ and the much less popular ‘DOTAMancer’ somewhere in the family tree but we don’t actually get to meet that many. You’re on a quest to stop the ‘Archmage’, who hates Liches for some reason and wishes them gone forever. Not exactly an inspiring narrative, nor very well told, but I suppose it gets the job done and manages to introduce new ‘room’ mechanics via story-based introductions to new characters. See, you’re not just building empty towers. You can occupy each floor with two rooms, one on the left side and one on the right, meaning they are always vulnerable to outside attacks as there are no middle sections that can be tucked away behind cover.

Before you meet your first sibling, ForgeMancer, the stages are just about building up the shell of a tower as it gets pelted by fireballs and baddies, then re-building until the mission objective for having n floors is met (essentially just outpacing the bad stuff). However, this quickly evolves into having n floors, with x:y rooms inside (for example: three floors, two forges, and two jail cells), but the player still has very little agency over anything at this point. There are no preventative measures that can be taken and the rooms really don’t do very much besides the forge making the iron necessary to build the jails – it’s just about getting hit and continuing to power through, like building a jenga tower as some irritating child tries to knock it down. It is possible to generate resources faster by clicking on the room that provides them, or the always available stone mine and saw mill but, even then, a couple of unfortunately-timed and unluckily placed hits from RNGesus and it’s all over. You have to understand a destroyed room just has a reduced materials cost for fixing it compared to the original build requirements. But if both rooms (left and right) of the same floor get sacked, the whole level is wiped. Yes, this also turns everything above it to rubble, basically transporting you five or six minutes back in time or resulting in a game over if it was the very bottom floor. And this can happen out of nowhere.

Eventually you do get ways of dealing with threats but then those end up going too far and trivialising the whole game, turning each new stage into a mad dash to blast through the development of the earlier rooms (to get the resources needed) so you can build out the safety net and then take your time actually working on the stage goals. This means flitting between random nuisances kicking your sandcastle down as you swiftly try to build up to a point where you become untouchable, surrounded by magical shields and armed guards. It’s unfortunate that this is true even of the final ‘bosses’, the last two – identical-feeling – stages in which you must protect yourself from damage and keep the cannons fed with iron bars. I have to say, the ‘internal’ management of delivering food to guards, putting iron in the cannons, and using alchemical potions in magical rituals to shield rooms is actually the most fun part of the game. Much like Drip Drip that I reviewed many years ago, the never-ending need to command units around and make sure you’re always ready with a resupply ends up feeling great – like you’re doing a good job based on your administration methodology and diligence, instead of rebuilding the same room over and over as it gets randomly hit. It may seem like it would be the same thing on the outside, but feeling like you’re accomplishing something whilst moving forward, as opposed to endlessly being forced to start over, is much more rewarding.

Sadder still is that once the game finally ramps up to that point where the player needs to build up and worry about the needs of each room, it’s all over. With only fifteen levels in the main story and eighteen challenge levels that follow the same gimmick, i.e build four/eight of this new room type, the title ends up clocking in at just over two hours. You can go back on hard mode, like I did, but there really doesn’t feel like much of a difference, especially once you get the pattern down and each level just folds into the next. Build a floor or two to unlock extra minions > forge > alchemy / kitchen > shield / guard room, depending on the level requirements. Even the challenge rewards are oddly telling about the lack of direction, as they unlock cool-downs for free building/repairs on specific rooms which, yes, helps alleviate the annoyance of having an important sector demolished, but also seems to work against the core idea of the game by allowing players to speed through without a hitch.

TowerMancer leaves a lot to be desired, which is just so annoying because it feels like they almost had something great, something you wouldn’t be able to pull yourself away from. It has an underlying addictive quality but it constantly works to push the player away with repetitive levels, fixed-path victories, and non-stop griefing. I really do hope to see another iteration from the team with a wider variety of everything – level setups, hazards, rooms, options. It could be a fab little time waster, but in its current state I think most people are just going to come away aggravated, disappointed, or both.

4 out of 10