Ancient Islands Nintendo Switch Review

When I play Ancient Islands, it feels like a classic Flash tower defense game. With some of its design choices… it’s a little challenging to mean that like a compliment.

By TotalFarmage, Posted 31 Mar 2022

When I hear the words ‘tower defense game’, my mind instantly flicks back to the late 2000s. Flash tower defense games were a big part of my childhood, and it wasn’t hard to find something fun in the genre back then. It was an engaging genre at the time, and I still find myself playing some tower defense games and getting just as much of a kick out of them as I did back then.

Ancient Islands is a tower defense game for the Nintendo Switch, published by Art Games Studios. It features, well, some ancient islands. These islands are under siege by a variety of monsters, and you have to protect the villages dotted around these islands from the doom that would be certain without your intervention. That seems to be the gist of the story, from what I gathered from my time playing.

Ancient Islands, Nintendo Switch, Review, Tower Defense, Strategy, Gameplay, Screenshots, NoobFeed, Art Games Studio, Avernus Software

My main focus when looking at Ancient Islands was its mechanics, which… I wasn’t sure about it.

To begin with, Ancient Islands provides a rigid structure to its map mechanics that is quite a bit tighter than other games in the same genre, though I have played other tower defense games with similar restrictions. A handful of predetermined spots are dotted around the current level map, which can have towers placed down onto them.

For me, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this. This kind of restriction is good when utilized well, as it can force players to be conservative with their resources and intelligent with their upgrades, knowing that their space is limited. It tends to enforce a quality over quantity style of gameplay, which leads to managing your resources and powering up the suitable towers at the right times. Solid and fun.

However, there is something that can make this kind of gameplay a bit challenging to manage and something that I felt like Ancient Islands ran into rather heavily: controls and UI. I felt like Ancient Islands had some clunky controls, making it very hard to work with this kind of gameplay in the fast-paced, ‘attention to detail’ style inherent to tower defense games.

To select plots to put your towers or towers you already have placed down, and you need actually to get to the spot you’re looking at. Your current selection is indicated by the circular plot glowing white (if the plot is empty) or the tower glowing green (if an already placed tower is selected). This makes sense.

However, most Ancient Islands maps are relatively large, and the enemies are small. Thus, the game provides you with the ability to zoom in. This is all well and good, except that the camera doesn’t move with your selection, and there is no overt notifier of your selected spot. Also, the plots are not grid-based, with your choice only moving to the following plot based on whichever one the game thinks is closest in the direction you move the stick in.

Ancient Islands, Nintendo Switch, Review, Tower Defense, Strategy, Gameplay, Screenshots, NoobFeed, Art Games Studio, Avernus Software

When you combine all of these features (as well as the fact that, on early maps, much of the color palette is green and lighter yellows and browns, which blend well with your greens and whites), the result is that it is effortless to lose track of what you’ve selected. Even in the first few levels, it’s impossible to count how many times I had to pause the game and zoom all the way out to figure out what random plot my cursor had wandered off to.

This clunky control scheme extended to the menus as well, in my opinion. It was rather annoying to manage to dig through Ancient Islands’ encyclopedias for information on my towers and enemies when I was flicking through everything in a line.

Moving on to a semi-related topic, it is essential to note that Ancient Islands features multiple types of resources required to construct and upgrade your towers: gold, wood, and stone. Again, there is nothing wrong with this inherently. However, while gold comes from killing enemies as per tower defense standard, wood and stone don’t. Those two resources come from special buildings made to harvest them.

Ancient Islands’ implementation of these resources confuses me. If you follow the previous discussion of placing towers on plots, it wouldn’t be a wrong assumption to make if you said that you place wood and stone-generating buildings on plots. After all, that would be an interesting way to manage resource gathering and balance it with defending yourself. You would have to choose between greeding heavily and gaining lots of resources or deploying more towers and risk getting overwhelmed due to lack of resources.

This is not how it works. In Ancient Islands, you place free-form buildings in the towns you are protecting as a goal. Except for in certain levels that I ran into, where you have some of these buildings simply preplaced and can’t build more. I didn’t understand this. Why have a complete lack of stakes in placing your resource buildings outside of the minor requirement of some gold to place and upgrade them? And why are the placement mechanics utterly different from the towers? It felt more like a lack of mechanical focus than anything else.

Ancient Islands, Nintendo Switch, Review, Tower Defense, Strategy, Gameplay, Screenshots, NoobFeed, Art Games Studio, Avernus Software

Speaking of towers, I wanted to discuss some of my gripes with them.

There are four types of towers in the Ancient Islands: Barracks, Archer Towers, Mage Towers, and Support Buildings. Barracks deploy a squad of three soldiers to stall enemies, Archer Towers shoot physical arrows, Mage Towers blast magical shots, and Support Buildings emit a slowing, damaging aura. Each of these buildings has three paths to upgrade from the base tower.

My main issue lies with the Barracks. The squad of soldiers that it deploys stand in the lane and stall enemies, doing damage and letting your ranged towers pick at them. However, there are quite a few flaws with this that I found.

First, the soldiers can’t hit flying enemies. They’ll hurry right past. Second, the soldiers all liked to focus on the same enemy from what I saw. Third, there are only three soldiers per tower. And finally, soldiers can die.

To highlight these issues, let’s look at the abilities of the Support Building. Support Buildings can hit flying enemies, damage everything in the radius, and slow them. They also do not stop attacking unless you upgrade them.

In the first few levels of Ancient Islands, I tried to use Barracks and found myself struggling. Once I stopped deploying them outside of the scattered one on straight ways and swapped to Support Buildings as my primary source of stalling, the games went much smoother. Because, in the end, choosing Barracks meant that I was choosing to stall three enemies and then dying, instead of choosing Support Buildings and delaying as many enemies as fit in the radius and weakening them for my ranged towers to pick off.

Even later in Ancient Islands, when I unlocked the upgrades for the Barracks, I still stuck with the Support Building. The only advantage that Barracks had over Support Buildings was that the soldiers could be healed with one of the spells. But I found that I’d rather not use one of the level one spells if it meant not using a tower that felt objectively worse.

Speaking of spells… there isn’t too much to say about them. I felt like they were implemented decently well, and I had no gripes. As you unlock more upgrades, you get more spells once you access higher levels of the mage building, which is another ‘resource’ building, like those that generate wood and stone. You free place them, and the more you have, the more mana you generate. Simple and makes sense. No complaints there.

Ancient Islands, Nintendo Switch, Review, Tower Defense, Strategy, Gameplay, Screenshots, NoobFeed, Art Games Studio, Avernus Software

Finally, I want to pick at a final, minor gripe I had with Ancient Islands: many of its descriptions were plain, not clear. Certain tooltips and detailed text were unclear, and I had to reread a couple of things to figure them out. The most egregious, however, were some of the bestiary entries. Certain entries would state things that are just outright false.

For example, there is an entry for the first flying enemy you meet, the Crow, which states that it has no physical or magical defense. However, when I later went into the Crow’s bestiary entry and checked up on its stats, I found that it was the monster with the highest magic resist out of some of the starting enemies, at a whopping 200 (compared to the base enemies which have… 0).

I wanted to like Ancient Islands more than I did. Its art style gave off the feel of an old-school tower defense game, which I enjoyed. The music and sounds were alright, and it gave off the vibe of a Flash game that I wanted to waste a couple of afternoons with. However… I don’t know if I would say that is a positive in this scenario, considering that it’s a game on the Nintendo Switch with a non-insubstantial price tag.

Alas, that will be the end of our review for Ancient Islands. If you were interested in anything that you saw here, check out the game on the Nintendo Switch store!

Jakob Gottschalk, NoobFeed

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General Information

Platform(s): Switch
Publisher(s): Art Games Studio S.A.
Developer(s): Avernus Software, Art Games Studio S.A.
Genres: Tower Defense
Themes: Arcade, Strategy
Release Date: 2022-03-10

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