It’s difficult to spice up a genre that’s barely changed since its incarnation, let alone breathe new life into two of them, but X-Morph: Defence is a bold mashup of both tower defence and top down shooter that displays solid mechanics despite being an uneven, wobbly experience.
For a relatively under the radar port, X-Morph certainly has the dazzle of a big budget title. From the off it looks great, and while the voice acting and cut scenes remind me of old school Command & Conquer, I kind of don’t mind the cheesy, B-movie vibes. It’s also satisfying to play as the bad guys too, unleashing chaos on earth as an invasive alien species as you attempt to take over the world. The campaign is split into different maps representing different countries, from English countryside to central Berlin, there’s a commitment to selling the locations and giving you the feel of the different countries.
Once your core ship has landed you have to hold off at least six rounds of enemies, coming from different directions to up the challenge your alien overlords face. Maps are dynamic and paths often change, so it’s important to stay on your feet and stay strategic when stopping threats. Destruction is obviously a big thing in X-morph and it’s not unusual for the humans to destroy buildings and bridges to block paths off, making your life much more difficult. You also have to consider enemy flight paths of enemy airships, as well as sneak attacks that drop units off close to your base.
Initially the focus is on the top down shooter aspect of the game more so than tower defence. Controlling your ship is easy, the nimble fighter moves with gusto which allows you to put out any metaphoric fires that are developing across the map. Shooting is conducted with the right stick, but unfortunately it makes a difference which controller you use because basic Joy Cons aren’t accurate enough to respond to the fast paced assaults you face and you’re better off using a Pro Controller. There’s a skill tree that can unlock a myriad of useful weapons, such as bombs and anti-air weapons, but the same problem remains, accuracy is difficult and it makes aiming hard.
There’s only one type of tower you can place, but the towers can be switched to have different attacks and abilities to combat the ever-changing scenarios. It’s a great idea in a game that can be overwhelming and rather than having a wheel of towers that can be dropped, you can just pick a tower and alter it’s type; making it overall a much more fluid experience. Towers can be roped together with electric fences that can block enemy paths, slowing down advancing units. You obviously can’t completely block a path, but snaking towers is a really useful strategy when slowing down enemy assaults, giving you time to plan ahead.
While most rounds see you defending against different tanks, artillery and fighter ships, occasional boss rounds shake up the battle with exciting results. These battles are incredibly fun, slowing down giant enemy mechs as they make their way across the map to your core ship, buildings crumbling around you. They’re chaotic, difficult but satisfying to complete.
But while both parts work, together the game struggles to get the two formulas to adhere. During the break between rounds you have plenty of time to re-plan your towers, move stuff about and generally sort yourself our before the next attack. As soon as a round starts the idea of strategizing goes out the window; if you stop to plant towers or switch unit types you’re leaving your core at the mercy of enemies. These seconds you’re planning are vital and if you aren’t attacking enemy ships yourself, you quickly become overwhelmed and it’s easy to lose if you’ve taken your eye off the ball, even for a second.
Completing levels unlocks skills, but the amount you unlock is limited and you never have more than a handful of upgrades at a time. It means you have to stay strategic, switching out tower types and sacrificing upgrades to your alien mothership to increase defences elsewhere. The game does warn you when you haven’t got the correct setup for a level and it’s a warning you should listen to; it’s easy to be bullish about your skills, but if you haven’t got the right kit you’ll have no chance of making it through.
As you can imagine, the game often becomes chaotic and at times there’s hundreds of enemies on-screen at once. The Switch simply can’t handle the strain and frame rate drops happen often. These are predominantly reserved for docked play, but when it’s bad the game is difficult to play and it really drains the enjoyment of it all.
The campaign is lengthy and a single level takes around half an hour to complete, providing you’re successful during each round. There’s plenty of replay value though, with a rank for each level and a survival mode once you’re done with that. Unfortunately the Switch version is missing the Split Screen co-op seen in other versions, but there’s the promise of future paid DLC if you aren’t done taking over the world.
X-Morph will leave you breathless in its chaos, but even with its pitfalls it’s seriously stupid fun. Boss battles are exhilarating and even if the Switch struggles to cope with the demanding unit count, it’s a gorgeous, silly shooter with average tower defence qualities. It may not be the perfect mashup of genres but fans of both should at least check it out.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
X-Morph: Defense Review
User Review( votes)
X-Morph will leave you breathless in its chaos, but even with its pitfalls it’s seriously stupid fun.