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Aegis Defenders Nintendo Switch Review by SwitchWatch

Developer: GUTS Department

Publisher: Humble Bundle

Release Date: February 8th 2018

Price as of Article: $19.99 USD, £14.99 GBP

Introduction

Made by GUTS Department and published by Humble Bundle (yes, I didn’t know they actually published games either), Aegis Defenders is a mashup of an action/puzzle platformer and a tower defence game. It’s also really good. 

Story

The story of Aegis Defenders tries to tell a nice intertwined tale of the history of the world our story takes place in and also the story of the young heroine Clu and her grandfather Bart. After deciding to move eastwards for business purposes, the two relic hunters find the world in danger as the suppressive Indran Empire have some dastardly plans for the lost weapon known as Aegis.

Without going into too much detail, I enjoyed the characters, especially the two main protagonists and learning about the history of the world, delving into Clu’s past and her lost parents. I wouldn’t say it’s the best story I’ve ever experienced as it tends to take a side role to the gameplay, but it’s enjoyable nonetheless, I was definitely up for finding out how the story would develop.

Audio

In the audio department we’ve got a nice dainty soundtrack that’s very non-intrusive to the gameplay. It often plays gently in the background during platforming sections and obviously picks up the pace to something a bit more action orientated while you’re defending your positions. Honestly, it’s a sweet little soundtrack that could have done with a bit more prominence. I turned down the sound effects and blasted up the music just to take it in a little more. 

Visuals & Performance

aegis defenders clu shooting a beast

The visuals are stunning in my opinion. I love the highly detailed pixel work gone into making this gorgeous looking world. The vast array of colours and moods that the game gives is fantastic, it really is one of the nicest looking pixel games I’ve ever played. The character art is another high point with its pristine bold colours. The designs themselves, especially of Clu and her grandfather, remind me very much of Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind which is only a good thing and I’d be shocked if the developers denied the influence.

What most impressed me was the sense of depth in the background. There are so many gorgeous layers that at one point I stopped playing properly because I just wanted to move around and see all the layers on the horizon. It’s a very good looking game, one of the best I’ve experience in a long while. The enemies, the characters, the backgrounds all culminate together into an exquisite looking game.

As far as performance goes, in docked mode the game runs almost perfectly and I didn’t notice any major performance issues, although the game tends to chug a little once in handheld mode. It does struggle to keep up with all the moving parts at times and, although it wasn’t exactly a slideshow, it was definitely noticeable. Hopefully performance can be improved here with a patch, but it wasn’t hugely distracting for me.

Gameplay

As stated Aegis Defenders is a mix of two genres: action-platformer and tower defence. It’s a combination that’s probably been done before as seemingly every single other genre in existence has been paired up with tower defence already. It seems an easy genre to go to. Now, with these two genres the game is actually divided up into three different gameplay sections.

The action-platforming section is just that. You and your allies explore an environment filled with monsters and some light puzzling elements involving pressing switches and things like that. You can switch between your characters who will either follow you or stand in place when told meaning that they can all go off and do their own thing, which will need to be done plenty of times as you’ll come across doorways which only a certain character can walk through. There’s a lot of teamwork involved and switching between characters is a must. There are even a handful of secrets to pick up hidden around the environments.

Eventually while wandering around the platforming sections you’ll come across a larger area where, more often than not, you’ll find something interesting. This also piques the interest of a stampede of enraged creatures and bad guys. This is when you have the building phase and the defending phase of the tower defence section.

aegis defenders building phase

With only a handful of seconds to prepare, you need to set up defences for the waves of enemies that will come. The game is quite helpful in certain ways as it will tell you which of the many entry points will be used in each wave. While you can use your character to attack with their two weapons, you’ll definitely want to construct defences to help you. Each character can collect their own special material which they can use to build defences. For example, Clu can collect a blue flower thing which can be used to build a proximity mine. Combine two of those together and she’ll make a line of traps. On the other hand, Bart collects rock-like material which can build a blockade or, if two are combined together, a turret that will shoot at enemies. You can even mix and match. If Clu puts down a mine and Bart tries to build a blockade on it, it will create a tri-shooter instead. Sure, it doesn’t logically make sense, but it adds a lot of potential for mixing and matching.

Now, when I say that the gameplay is divided, I should probably state that the transitions are very smooth. My words make it sound rather terse, but actually they flow into each other with such perfect grace that unless you were thinking about it, you wouldn’t notice.

It’s at this point I should mention the strengths/weakness of your characters and enemies. Each enemy is set to a different colour and that is what it is weak too. For example, a flying red bug will be weak to Clu’s red bow attacks and yellow rock enemies will be weak to Bart’s hammer. There’s a surprising amount of depth, for sure.

Upon completing a level you’ll earn both money and RP (which I think stands for Research Points). Between levels you can use money to buy upgraded weapons for your characters or increase the amount of life you have and use RP to improve your defensive contraptions, both increasing health, damage and maybe even adding an extra effect.

When beginning the game you’ll start off with just Clu and Bart put eventually you’ll add others to your team. This is when the game can become a tad overwhelming at times, especially because of it’s real time style where it can be difficult to keep up with everyone and have them in the right positions, getting them to build stuff and combining things. Thinking about the amount of characters, the amount of buildable defences, the weapon strengths as well as the multiple entry points for enemies, the game can be overwhelming and it will take a while to get used to considering so many things. I just wish the friendly AI was more capable by itself and take initiative at times because as it is, they either follow you or can be placed in strategic points to defend. Sadly, they’re not always the best at this which adds another strain to an already difficult game. I couldn’t always rely on them to do the right thing.

Another issue I had was that due to how the controls work, switching between characters, switching between weapons and also commanding your allies to stay or follow are all on the shoulder buttons and so many times while faffing about trying to switch characters or weapons did I accidentally press the ‘follow’ me command, effectively ruining my defensive positioning. It’s so easy to shoot yourself in the foot. I know it’s mostly my fault but I think putting that command in a different area from all the switchy things would have been better. 

The challenge is definitely real here. With three difficulty options I decided to choose normal (as I usually do for a balanced opinion). After a pretty easy first couple of levels, boy does the difficulty ramp up soon after and, even though from that point you’ll see victory more easily in some stages than others, there are plenty of times where you’ll have to play a stage multiple times before you succeed. It’s such a tense and exhilarating game though, just because of how tight every stage can be.   

I think Aegis Defenders may be a more enjoyable game if you’re playing with a second player, working together to defend against the waves of enemies. In fact I suspect this was the initial premise when planning out the game, with the single player portion being worked into it afterwards. It’s great teaming up. The problem is, it’s not really a game you can dip in and out of. It’s one of those games where you definitely need to start from the beginning with a friend and see it through. You won’t be asking your friend to join you midway through the campaign because they will end up being more of a hindrance, not knowing building combinations and such. It’s definitely more suited to sibling or other half multiplayer, rather than the friend who comes around once in a while.

aegis defenders defence phase

Value

For value, Aegis Defenders is asking for $19.99 or £14.99 of your hard earned cash. It’s not the highest we’ve seen and many a game of similar origins and visual style have asked for more. When comparing it to the competition from games like Owlboy or Celeste it’s a little cheaper, at least on the UK front. Now, I’m not saying they’re the same kind of experience but I would put them in similar categories. In that regard Aegis Defenders is doing well and if you’ve stuck with this review all the way up to this point then you know that I think Aegis Defenders is well worth it. It’s a lengthy campaign too, probably in a similar bracket to the other games I just mentioned.

Pros

P

Stunning visuals

P

Great genre mashup

P

Incredibly tense action

Cons

P

Friendly AI is a tad useless

P

Slightly overwhelming