Lesson Learned review

The tutorial for this tower defence game takes less than two minutes to complete, duly informing how to place defences and gather resources by ordering your “minions” to chop trees and smash stones. Two minutes were all that’s needed – the controls are surprisingly intuitive, using only a few buttons on the joypad. Unfortunately, this tutorial is also a good indicator of what’s to come – this is a simplistic take on the genre, being considerably casual. You won’t be learning many lessons here when it comes to keeping your base protected.

The game’s name is, in fact, a reference to its plot. You play as a baseball cap wearing schoolboy who has drifted into a daydream during history class. As such, the game world – which features 2D sprites on a 3D backdrop, much like Don’t Starve – is a fantastical realm with an enemy roster including bipedal armour-clad animals, while animalistic takes on historical figures – including The Pope, Napoleon, and Winston Churchill – take the form of bosses.  

Lesson Learned review

Defences, meanwhile, comprise of wooden crossbow towers, spinning projectile spitters, flamethrowers, and ground pounding hammers. These unlock gradually (for the two hours or so, just two types are available) and each can be upgraded a few times over by collecting artefacts occasionally dropped mid-battle. To construct, each defence requires resources, of which there are just two types: wood and stone. Direct control over our schoolboy star is given, and they can either carry resources back to the base – a wardrobe on legs – or order “minions” to gather them on your behalf. The minions are actually your school chums, making it an odd choice of wording for your peers. An additional minion unlocks after each boss fight, and with maps quickly expanding, you’ll need all the help you can get to ferry resources. Minions can only gather items and repair defences, being unable to attack enemies directly. Our hero, however, is armed with a slingshot that’ll stun foes for a few seconds.

While missions take place in different time periods (Bronze Age, Iron Age, etc) every single level follows the same rules. Your base follows a linear path from the level’s start to end and must be protected – if it takes too much damage, you can either start a level from scratch or reload a checkpoint. When a level begins, you’re always close to the enemy spawn point, so it’s vital to establish defences straight away after grabbing nearby resources. After a few waves, your base will then begin to shuffle towards the level’s end, giving more room to place defences along the path that enemies rigidly follow. A ticker at the top of the screen shows which waves are coming next, and it’s possible to invoke waves earlier. You’ll also gain a bonus upgrade token, meaning there’s some incentive for starting battle sooner instead of resource gathering.  

It’s hard to argue that Lesson Learned doesn’t get the basics right – it’s easy to get into and comprehend. However, the first couple of hours are also highly repetitive while lacking in challenge, even on Normal difficulty. It’s possible to merely surround the enemy spawn point with defences while your base merrily skips towards the exit unscathed – a winning tactic for the first dozen(!) missions. Also during the game’s first half, there are only three enemy types, making waves predictable and repetitive. On that subject, a single music track plays on a loop for the game’s entire 5-6 hour duration, interrupted only by the battle theme. There isn’t even an unfolding story to become engrossed in.

Lesson Learned review

In the game’s final hours, things do pick up. That’s to say, you’ll need to invest a good 2-3 hours before the levels start to differentiate and become more complex. Maps start to feature not one but two enemy spawn points, shaking things up substantially. Waves become more aggressive, with new brute types smashing up your defences unless they’ve been upgraded a few times. By this point, you’ll also have a full set of defences to mess around with. Only six, but enough for a snifter of strategy. Bosses become tougher too, to the point where it’s vital to prepare before their arrival, creating a fallback defence row should they manage to break through. It’s a shame that you’ll need to slog through the sloppy first half before it starts to resemble a contemporary tower defence experience.

Lesson Learned is very much at odds with itself. It’s clearly intended to be a casual, light-hearted, example of the genre that will appeal to all ages – and the ability to reload checkpoints makes it quite forgiving – but it ends up being too simplistic for its own good, failing to offer much in the way of variety as a result. It won’t please long-term tower defence fans, and those lured in by the quirky premise and sketchbook art direction will likely be bored before the halfway point. Hopefully, the developers themselves learn a few lessons from this experience – a bolder, more experimental, sequel that has a stab at introducing a storyline would be welcome.

Gaming Factory’s Lesson Learned is out 29th May on Xbox One and PC.