Aegis Defenders Switch Review
I think a great many people will be put off of Aegis Defenders by its design alone. After the mountain of Kickstarter’d and Steam Greenlight’d indie games whose sole selling-point is their pixel graphics it’s easy to to be overwhelmed, especially when the majority of them are so underwhelming to play. Not here, however, which is even more surprising considering the development team’s general lack of experience in the video game industry. With about three and a half years and $145,000 behind them, it’s clear that a huge amount of time and effort went into learning and crafting the title. It’s pretty evident just by seeing the differences between the current game and the original campaign page, what changes were made throughout development to fit new characters, develop the storyline, and generally improve the gameplay. Clearly it’s been a labour of love and although I did encounter some serious bugs (which I’ve been assured are being stomped out), the fresh mix of genres and level of detail on display is always an inspiration to see.
The most strange and wonderful thing about the game is that it feels like multiple games working together in a great harmony. Even playing single-player or with a partner is an entirely different experience. Firstly, it’s half platforming/exploration/puzzle solving, often in the vain of something like The Lost Vikings and half Real Time Strategy…but sometimes it’s both. Most of the time a stage starts and requires the player(s) to make their way through a few amusing puzzles, taking advantage of each characters’ unique traits, and battles to reach the mission objective, which must then be defended against hordes of enemies. Sometimes, though, the object to protect is a moving payload of some kind, meaning the player(s) have to explore and gather resources, all whilst solving puzzles, and protecting the objective. It gets incredibly hectic, making for some thrilling last-second saves, and that’s not even the half of it – there are multiple characters to control all at once, whether playing alone or multiplayer.
There are four characters to control by mid-game. They are all necessary and have many differences. Each character eventually has two weapons that each have their own colour, symbolising what enemies they’re effective against. Each character can also use gathered resourced to build some kind of defence mechanisms, whether it be a run-of-the-mill turret or a bot that weakens nearby enemies. Two characters can also mix-and-match their unique resources to create special crossover defences, such as resource generators or turrets with unique abilities, like shooting different directions and multiple colour-buffs. Of course they do have to physically be somewhere to place a defence, though. However, characters can be instantly switched between no matter where they are and the characters not currently controlled by players can be instantly summoned or told to wait where they are. There are also special doors which only the corresponding character can go through. Now, imagine enemies are coming from all sides, there’s fifty seconds to gather resources and set up defences, and there’s no second player. Go. Every button on the controller has a purpose and there’s so much going on, making it incredibly easy to slip up trying to balance everything at once but damn if it doesn’t get your heart-going.
It. Gets. Hard. Obviously, right?! There’s so much to worry about – using a particular character’s unique hammer weapon to repair damaged defences, moving another character somewhere their ranged attack would be useful, dashing to the other side of the object to build special turrets as flying enemies are passing by unhindered. I even had to drop down to normal mode for my single-player playthrough, something I very rarely do in a game, because I just couldn’t hack it at first. Even then I looked like a man possessed playing the more challenging levels alone, splitting my brain into four pieces to keep track of everything. Although, I guess when the only settings are ‘Normal’, ‘Hard’, and ‘Insane’ I should have known I was going to get pummelled. Playing with somebody else does alleviate a lot of the constant and frantic switching about, but instead of making it easier, it adds a whole new element of having to communicate problems quickly and effectively – a totally different type of difficulty. Due to this chaotic and truly simple yet satisfying gameplay, it’s easy to see the replayability in Aegis Defenders being the harder difficulty settings, especially considering how it left me wanting more after the 7-hour-ish campaign, as there are no other missions outside of the story.
I liked the story, too, actually. It is just a basic adventure tale about a group of unlikely friends fighting back against a cruel regime, but it shows a small part of a much larger and interesting world that could potentially be expanded on. It starts off straightforward when Clu and her grandfather, Bart, stumble on an ancient and incredibly powerful weapon and develops nicely from there. The characters and their interactions are entertaining and even allow the player to earn upgrade points by selecting appropriate dialog choices for the current conversation, depending on who’s hearing it. It adds a little more for the player to do whilst reading through dialog and it requires knowledge of the conversing characters’ personalities and situations to do well – I liked it a lot. Of course upgrade points for defences and money for weapons is also earned from doing well in the stages, by not letting the objective take so much damage or by finding all of the special pickups lying about everywhere etc – another bit of replayability that I absolutely couldn’t let slip, only moving on to the next level after I had fully completed the last.
It may sound like I’m dishing out a lot of praise but I think just ‘fun’ describes Aegis Defenders quite perfectly. It’s hardly the best game anyone has ever played but it is charming and great to pick up and play for a stage or two at a time – also making it another game suited incredibly well for the Switch, especially considering the multiplayer aspect. The levels are a great length and the two-sided gameplay keeps things fresh, there’s a lot of upgrades and weapons to buy and test out, there’s even a few ‘crossover’ stages that unlock special costumes and weapons as well as feature beloved fellow Kickstarter game stars, such as Shovel Knight – the king of indie. Whilst it’s a short experience story-wise, it’s certainly a pleasant one (providing the frenzied gameplay doesn’t drive anyone mad) and, as mentioned, there is replayability in the harder modes. I know I’ll be keeping it installed on my Switch – ready for anyone willing to tackle ‘Insane’ mode with me, although I’m not sure we’d both survive it.