While iPhone-land is full of remakes and spin-offs of untold classics (and not-so-classics) from PC gaming's long history, it's rare for the reverse to be quite so successful. Downscaling something relatively complicated to the simplicity of touch controls often seems to work out better than trying to make touch-games feel natural on a mouse and keyboard. Perhaps we're in a new age, though. Last month's Super Hexagon, originally released for iOS, very much felt like PC was its second home, and now we have an impressively polished upscaling of best-selling iPhone/Pad tower defence game Fieldrunners 2.
Where the PC version of Fieldrunners 1 took a couple of years to arrive on PC and felt far too rudimentary once it did (less waiting for a bus and then two come along, and more that a Morris Minor turns up instead), the sequel's a different matter. Fieldrunners 2 was quietly spectacular to behold on the smallest screen, but free to sprawl its colourful worlds of death-marching cartoon men and fire-spewing turrets across a big monitor it's a real sight to behold.
The user interface is completely redone for PC, so you'll find yourself naturally clicking all over the shop and hitting keyboard buttons rather than repeatedly trying to poke your screen. There's a graphical step-up too, primarily because the resolution isn't fixed anymore, and as a result Fieldrunners 2 expertly hides its mobile origins.
It's a cracking tower defence game too, tending to treat its maps as fiendish puzzles rather than simply spamming your rows of turrets with more and more enemies until you either triumph by attrition or give up in exhaustion. Crack a level's logic - i.e. herd the ever-marching clone army that is the titular Fieldrunners around the place in such a way that they suffer maximum damage from your turrets and maximum slowdown by the environment - and everything falls into place. There's far more emphasis on figuring out how to do this than there is on eclectic units and turrets. Which, on paper, might dispiriting, as there's certainly no shortage of tower defence games which involve soldiers, tanks, machine guns and slowdown guns, but this frees Fieldrunners 2 to focus on real strategy rather than excess for the point of excess.
Indeed, that cutsey cartoon look is at odds with how demanding the game can be, especially in later levels or at the unforgiving three-star difficulty setting. It might look like it's up for a huge, but it'll stick a knife in your ribs if you try it. It's certainly not the hardest core tower defence game in town, but you definitely need to bring your brain to the party.
Where Fieldrunners 2 falters is in its character. Yes, it's mega-colourful and it the size of some of the hordes it swamps the screen with is often spectacular, but there's something oddly bland about it upon close inspection. It carries itself like it's a humorous game, with its loading screen puns and squeaky death sounds, but there's not really anything going on beyond that. It's a bit Saturday morning cartoon, really. Of course, the game doesn't exist to be funny - it's just that it really seems like it wants to be, then doesn't do much about it.
This is hardly a turn-off, or any reason to steer clear of what's without question one of an oft-cowardly genre's most finely-honed hours. It's just that wit feels like it might have been the element that could have lifted Fieldrunners 2 from solid good time into something truly special. Nonetheless, it's amazing how comfortable the game seems on PC, to the point that this is definitely the best version of the game.