Aegis Defenders is a hybrid of tower defense and platformer, that seeks to call into mind Studio Ghibli when it comes to narrative and art. Is it an adventure worth taking?
At a Glance – 8 / 10
I usually prefer single player experiences, but Aegis Defenders is the rare game that is so engaging and fun with another player that it is nearly a requirement in order to play it. The game is so incredibly charming, with a great story and characters that are instantly likable, but it is hampered for single players by frenetic gameplay that simply has too much going on to handle for most solo gamers. If you plan on playing this game completely alone, know that it will be a very difficult experience, that is incredibly stressful in the later tower defense sections. However, if you can find a person to play through the entire campaign with, this game becomes one of my favorite I’ve played so far this year.
There are few games I’ve fallen instantly in love with while playing it, but Aegis Defenders was one of those games. It also managed to be a game that I changed my mind about partway through, and cussed throughout the entire second half.
Though I typically shy away from any sort of tower defense games, the artwork was enough to draw me in, and the interesting characters and narrative was enough to get me to stay. The game starts out simply enough, with a grandfather and his daughter out to collect scrap to earn a meal. Both of the characters are instantly likable, and their banter is witty and fun. You can often choose the main protagonist Clu’s responses, and there are often times where she has some hilarious things to say. Of course, things don’t stay simple for long, as Clu and Bart are swept up into an epic story about the fate of the world, but one that has an incredibly interesting back story that focuses on powerful beings that used to rule this world.
In the beginning of most levels you’ll play a platformer which has some pretty straight forward puzzles at first that ramp up significantly. If you are playing solo you can swap between each of the characters at any time, each having things they can build that will get you through the environment. For instance, Clu can build a bomb with flower resources found in the environment, whereas her grandfather can build blocks to climb on that also double as defenses later on.
At the end of each platforming section you’ll come to a point where you have to defend a central location. Here the tower defense portion comes in, but it is far more action oriented than past games of the genre. Each character has a different base item they can build, like Clu with her bombs, and these can then be combined with other characters items. For instance, if you combine one of Clu’s bombs with her grandfather’s defense wall, you suddenly have a tri-turret, while combining two bombs transforms them into ground spikes. It is a simplistic concept that is very well executed, and leads to a variety of ways to stop enemies in their track.
In addition to this, each character has two weapons that they can control. Each weapon is tied to a color type, and thus does more damage against an enemy of the same color. This leads to a number of fun tactical situations, where before each wave you are setting up to play off those strengths and weaknesses, and as the waves are attacking you are making your way back and forth while switching characters and using their attacks to stop the monsters in their tracks.
In between these segments you’ll find yourself back at camp, where you can talk to your friends and upgrade your traps, buy new ones, or purchase new weapons. There are also some clever and funny dialogue to be had, especially with a vendor that shows up from time to time. The clever dialogue I mentioned earlier is at full play here, and it is possible by choosing the right choices in your dialogue tree to get things at a massive discount from this character, or completely for free, always leaving you feel like some master haggler.
All of these characters look fantastic in very well done sprite work, with anime style character art during story segments that has echoes of Ghibli in it, and a story that Miyazaki himself wouldn’t have a problem putting in one of his films. The game has an immense amount of charm, which provides a constant drive to see what happens next, if for no other reason than to see these characters reactions to it and enjoy the amazing art.
Of course, you can also play the entire game cooperatively, with one player controlling each character, or swapping between the four you ultimately get while playing through the campaign. While playing by yourself this lends the platform sections a Lost Vikings vibe, something that I found I sorely missed. However, the game feels far more fluid with another person in these sections, and the split screen works dynamically to make the experience fluid. Co-op is only available locally, which is a crying shame, as the game is far better with a teammate. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is nearly required to have another player to really enjoy Aegis Defenders, and as such it made it extremely difficult for me to make way in the game over a shorter period of time.
I played this game as a co-op game the first time I played it, and swapping back to single player was nearly untenable. While the platformer sections are still quite fun, if slowing the pace massively, the tower defense sections in the later portion of the game are nearly unplayable; at least for someone of my skill. Setting up defenses and keeping track of them, while swapping between four characters on the fly with different strengths, as enemies pile on from all sides was incredibly difficult for me.
It doesn’t help that the game has a baffling difficulty spike mid-game further exacerbated as the game adds on more characters making it naturally more complex. The pacing of the game that originally feels fresh and exciting becomes increasingly hard to push through by yourself, to a point where I had to simply stop playing on my own. I certainly might have been able to make my way through the game alone, but I found myself stressed out enough at the thought and discouraged by the fact that with a friend the game was immeasurably more fun.
This duality nearly calls for two scores for the game. If you have another person to play the game with, it is probably a solid 9.5. However, if you have to go it alone, I think that the difficulty spikes and stressful tower defense drops it to a 7. Since I don’t want to give two scores, I feel we can meet somewhere in the middle, but know that if you have a person to play with that my opinion increases dramatically.
I usually prefer single player experiences, but Aegis Defenders is the rare game that is so engaging and fun with another player that it is nearly a requirement in order to play it. The game is so incredibly charming, with a great story and characters that are instantly likable, but it is hampered for single players by frenetic gameplay that simply has too much going on to handle for most solo gamers. If you plan on playing this game completely solo, know that it will be a very difficult experience, that is incredibly stressful in the later tower defense sections. However, if you can find a person to play through the entire campaign with, this game becomes one of my favorite I’ve played so far this year.