By Henry Badilla / February 23rd, 2018
|Release Date||February 8, 2018|
|Genre||Tower Defense, Metroidvania|
|Platform||PC, Switch, PS4|
|Age Rating||Everyone 10+|
During my impressions piece on Staxel I talked a bit about comparing games with one another as a way to describe a game more easily. While Aegis Defenders is not the “Mario Kart with waifus” that I was hoping to review next, it is a nice blend between tower defense and Metroidvania that offers cooperative play between two players. If the above sounds good to you, then let me walk you through this unique game by GUTS Department.
The story follows Clu, a young girl, and her grandpa Bart. Both are treasure hunters searching the ruins of an old civilization for relics that they can sell to make it to the next meal. In one of these expeditions they find Kobo, a small sentient robot that is looking to revive its master, a giant robot called Aegis. Afraid that it may fall into the wrong hands, they decide to assist Kobo and use Aegis to fight against the evil empire that has been conquering other countries.
I don’t want to spoil the story for you, but I have to mention that I really liked it. On the surface it seems to be the typical story of an evil empire and the brave heroes, but the world building around it is really good. Also the way that the events of the old civilization are narrated alongside the events happening around Clu and her grandpa make this a really likable and well told story. Lately I haven’t played many games focused on story, so I wanted to let you know that Aegis Defenders does care about it.
In regards to the gameplay, this is easier to explain if you think of this game as a 2D platformer. You can control both Clu and Bart at any time by switching between characters. Each character has a unique attack. Clu uses a rifle and a bow to attack, while Bart has a hammer for close combat. What sets this apart from a traditional Metroidvania is that the characters can also build items in the field.
Clu can build a bomb, which can be upgraded to a trap that damages the enemies that step on it. Bart can build a stone block that works as a shield and can be used as a platform to jump higher, which can be upgraded into a small turret. In order to build these items you need to find resources on the map. For Clu these are blue mushrooms and for Bart, yellow rocks. Different resources only work for different characters, meaning that if you only have a blue mushroom you cannot build a stone block.
Each stage is divided into two sections. First is the exploration section in which you navigate through the map, killing enemies and collecting relics that act as collectibles for this game and provide you with gold to purchase weapons and upgrades. Once you reach the end of the stage the tower defense starts. During this section you have to defend a point, usually the middle of the map, while enemies spawn from different areas around it. You have 60 seconds to gather the resources around the map and build your defenses. Once the time is up, a wave of enemies begins to spawn and while you can sit back and let your turrets do the work, you can also attack the enemies with Clu or Bart, a tactic that becomes mandatory later in the game.
In addition to this, enemies are color coded just like your characters are. I mentioned that Clu collects blue mushrooms, that’s because her items and main attacks are color coded blue, meaning that these deal additional damage to blue enemies, while Bart is yellow, meaning his turrets and attacks deal more damage to yellow enemies. Further in the game a red and purple character will also join, expanding our party to four, so we can switch between these four characters. Having more players brings more tools that can be built, along with the possibility to mix them to create even more items. Clu and Bart can create a turret that attacks in three directions and deals extra damage to blue and yellow for example, but it needs both a blue and yellow resource. There are no items of three colors so this never gets too complex, but it adds another layer of complexity to the resource management.
Once a level is completed you go to the caravan where you can buy new weapons, upgrade each of the items that you can build to increase their damage and duration, and later on, upgrade the life total of your characters and the life total of the base that you need to defend.
As I mentioned at the start, this game offers local co-op so you can have a friend join in at any time and control one of the characters. This is nice as you don’t need to have an unique save for co-op and they can jump in and out. However this leads to what I think is the only problem with the game. It is designed with co-op in mind.
On the first levels you can control only Bart and Clu, so it’s easy to switch between them, collect resources between waves of enemies, build new items and defend by yourself. But in later levels when you control three or four characters the maps are considerably bigger, with lots of spawn points. And while you technically have four characters to defend, three of which will be controlled by the AI, the AI is not smart and they will simply spam attacks in place. By myself the 60 seconds are barely enough time to collect all the resources and usually I ended up building while the enemies were spawning. In some cases during the first waves I couldn’t avoid getting hit.
I feel that by having a second player these problems are not as impacting, and overall make the game easier and more manageable as you can split tasks. One builds while the other collects things, or one player controls Bart while he fixes the turrets, something that only he can do. The other problem I had with the game comes in level 3-3. Up to that point all stages have been similar. The base in the middle of the map while enemies spawn from the left and right, but this map shakes things up way too much.
This map has you defend a vehicle moving through the map while enemies come from the back or the front. The problem is that this is what could be considered as a boss stage, so the difficulty spikes a bit compared to previous stages, and a new mechanic is introduced in the form of having a moving target. While I was able to get all previous levels completed by taking no damage on the first or second try, this one took me around seven tries to pass, and with just one point of life left out of five.
These two issues make me feel that the main problem is in the balance of the game. The developers probably focused too much on the co-op aspect and assumed that the AI would cover for the lack of a second player. These are things that can be fixed in the future, but as of now be aware that the learning curve will increase drastically if you’re playing by yourself.
Moving to the art department, if you’re into pixel art then you’re in for a treat. The art of the characters, scenarios and enemies is really well made and everything looks colorful and bright. Mixed with the characters themselves, that are quite cheerful, it makes this game a joy to play. The music reminds me a lot of RPGs of the PS1 era. With some cheerful tones, and some really sad and nostalgic ones, it gives this game a really nice package in both music and visuals.
Aegis Defenders is out now for $20 and it took me 12 hours to complete the story. There are three difficulty levels which adds a bit of replayability, but even if you only play it once I feel that it’s worth your money. This is a game that’s easy to recommend to almost everyone. The story is great, the music is really emotional and the art is amazing. Just keep in mind that if you’re playing solo the game will become a bit difficult, which is why I’m rating it a 4 out of 5, but If you have someone to help you this is easily a 4.5 or a 5. If you like tower defense with a side dish of Metroidvania don’t forget to check it out.
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Aegis DefendersGUTS DepartmentHumble BundleMetroidvaniaSteamTower Defense