Video games are not known for their subtlety. Spice Invaders has a frightening message about ecological disaster and rapacious commerce, where the Earth is under attack by Space Pirates over control of a precious resource. The kicker is, you and friends get to play as the villains.
Perversely, it's not presented as a doom and gloom, grim and gritty scenario. Spice Invaders looks more like a Pixar animation, where the Space Pirates are fuzzy wuzzy creatures who wouldn't look out of place in a toyshop. They're completely oblivious to the damage they're causing, they just want their Spice, and you're going to help them get it.
How does it play?
The hub of the action of a giant map of the world. As an entry level space cadet, you're assigned a sequence of missions at strategic locations all over the globe; you must fortify your outpost against the rag-tag defenders of the Earth. These might take place on a football field, or at an airport, or somewhere in the jungle.
As they rush to attack your outpost, you place towers on a hexadecimal grid to slow down the onslaught. Typical to the genre, you can choose from several different types of tower, each having a unique cost, upgrade path, and effectiveness and range. These are paid for with the currency you get for maiming the enemy. Sounds like your typical tower defence game, right?
Spice Invaders is actually a lot more complicated, for several reasons. Firstly, because it's built around a freemium model the game is free to download, but there are costs associated with playing the game in full. Therefore, the Spice that everyone is fighting over also functions as another in-game currency, where it's used to unlock new towers, upgrade your abilities, remove adverts, and even customise your threads. You can earn Spice by grinding through the game, or you can save time and just pay for it outright.
Secondly, each stage in Spice Invaders is flexible enough to provide several different play modes. Aside from the single-player campaign, there's also a sudden death mode, where your outpost must remain unmolested or it's game over. There's also a multiplayer mode, with competitive or cooperative battles that can involve up to eight players.
Why do we like it?
Sometimes we get really peeved by freemium games. A games publisher isn't brave enough to put an asking price on their product, so they try to ensnare your wallet via other means. With Spice Invaders, however, it's difficult not to be impressed.
Whilst the core game on offer is your standard tower defence game, the production values are top-notch, and the addition of an online multiplayer on such a scale is mighty impressive. The genre has effectively been stripped down to its component parts and rebuilt from the ground up, so that tower defence is now a social experience as opposed to a solitary one.
With that in mind, it's wrong to regard Spice Invaders as a free game. Regard it a software title that will require a minimum investment of £1.99 to unlock the full features (not least being the removal of adverts) so that you and your friends can plunder the Earth to your heart's content. In space, no one can hear you say ‘Arrrr!’
Spice Invaders is available now on the App Store (free)