I have a love-hate relationship with the tower defense genre. I love strategy and RPG elements like fighting monsters, leveling up my characters skills, and learning new ones, but then I hate the pressure of having a timer on-screen that tells me how much time I have left to build my defenses or hold out against an attack–and therefore just how much I still have to do.
Aegis Defenders is a fast-paced game and there’s little to no room for error if you want to get the best possible score. The game is divided into chapters, each of which begins with a cutscene depicting the history of this world and how things came to be the way they are. Then, you are given control of your characters, whose unique skills you’ll use to solve puzzles and defeat enemies in platformer fashion. You can only control one character at a time, though you can switch between them as need be and also toggle whether they follow behind you on or off. This can be used to solve simple switch puzzles, but it also comes into handy during battle because characters commanded to stay put will attack enemies within their range. More on that later.
Each stage has a number of relics, the game’s collectables, and one of the level bonuses that can be earned is for collecting all of them. While you’re exploring, you can also pick up the materials needed to use your skills.
After you’ve made your way to the area where you’ll need to fight off waves of enemies, you’re forced into a conversation, during which more story is told via character dialogue, and then you’re asked whether or not you’re prepared to fight. If you say no, you’re actually able to take a stroll around and familiarize yourself with the area you’ll need to fortify, which I would advise that you always do.
The game does a great job of telling you what to expect as far as where the enemy is coming from, as denoted by what looks like sewer pipes that will be highlighted if they’re active, but once the waves start trickling in there won’t be any time to explore and it helps to know how best to get around the field in as expeditious a manner possible.
You’re given a brief planning phase during which you’ll build your initial defenses. Anything built-in the area before that point will disappear and those resources will he wasted. You can earn bonus chips for ending your planning phase early, the number of which depends on how much time you have remaining, buy I personally found that after the first chapter during my normal difficulty play through, that never happened again.
Just like during the platforming section, you’re able to control a single character at a time and tell the ones you aren’t currently controlling to sit put. This is an amazing component to your strategy because the AI will act according to what it’s next to. Leave Gramps near a damaged structure, for instance, and he’ll automatically repair it. Characters left near resources will harvest them and characters within range of an enemy will attack. As such, the game encourages a hands-on sort of cooperation between yourself and the AI, meaning you’ll be switching between characters regularly to ensure everyone is where they need to be.
The structures you can build in-game are typical of the tower defense genre, meaning you’ll he setting down bombs, spike traps, turrets that shoot different sorts of bullets, walls to impede the enemy’s path, and so on. They can be upgraded using RP, which is earned by selecting the dialogue options during conversations. This was a neat aspect to the game and one that encouraged me to think before I “spoke”–so to speak.
The enemies are colour coded, as are your characters and the different weapons they can equip. Matching colours do more damage, meaning that if Clu, who is blue, attacks a blue enemy she can kill it faster that Gramps, who is yellow could. Once again, this mechanic forces you to juggle your characters and things can get pretty hectic. There was a definite learning curve for me as far as the controls and I found myself cycling through characters when I meant to change weapons or commanding a character to follow instead of switching over to where he or she was.
In order to win, you have to hold off against a set number of enemy waves while ensuring your base HP doesn’t hit 0. Each base, which is usually an object or person, has a specific number of HP and one point is one enemy allowed through your vanguard. The victory screen shows you whether or not you managed to complete the challenges for that area. There are three in all, one of which always deals with not taking base damage, and you’re awarded a significant number of chips so they’re worth pursuing.
The game is challenging, but not unfair, and you’re able to retry a stage as many times as you would like and some stages will require you to come back with powered up abilities if you hope to defeat enemies quickly enough to avoid taking base damage.
After you’ve completed a chapter, you’re brought back up base camp where you can purchase equipment from the scrapmaster, Amber, learn and upgrade skills with Grandpa, and buy odds and ends from the travelling salesman, Nick. You’re also able to save your game here and travel to any area you’ve unlocked through the course of the story.
The pixel art is fantastic. Enemies, characters, and environments are detailed and vibrant. During cutscenes and conversations, characters are represented by cartoon-style portraits. There isn’t full voice acting, but characters will utter certain words and phrases.
I do have a few complaints as far as quality of life improvements. I’ve found on more than one occasion that I mistakenly placed an object and it would be nice if you could break it down and get even half the resources back. It would also be nice if you could skip through the text that you’ve already read, which would streamline subsequent chapter attempts. These are small gripes, however, and in no way diminished my enjoyment of the game. I think I’ll need to dial back the difficulty, though, because it ramps up quite quickly.