by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
Story and Presentation
I’ve played a ton of platformers. I’ve played a ton of tower defense games. I’ve played a ton of indie titles that use pixel graphics to tell a cute little fantasy story. I haven’t, however, played anything that combines all three, and Aegis Defenders pulls it off pretty darned well.
In a semi-post-apocalyptic world, the aging Bart and his granddaughter Clu are scavengers that scour the land for any valuable tech they might be able to sell for a good meal. The story, unfolding in real time through the game and via a series of flashback stories in between levels, was an interesting one, telling the tale of powerful “gods” called the Deathless and those that tried to combat them. I’m a sucker for any kind of stories that build mythology, and Aegis Defenders build quite an interesting one. The playable characters and NPCs are all fairly interesting and well written, with my only real narrative complaint being that I had a hard time locking down what I was “supposed” to pick when presented with dialogue choices that offer resource rewards based on response.
I’ve historically been a person that’s been pretty wishy-washy with the whole retro-look thing, criticizing more than a few titles for over-simplifying, while appreciating the staggering amount of work others put forth to make them engaging and alive. Aegis Defenders falls firmly in the latter category, with both pixel graphic gameplay and hand-drawn cutscene frames coming together to deliver a particularly enjoyable game to look at. The landscapes look absolutely beautiful, with the pixel art constantly filling the screen with color and detail, and character designs and colors walk the line well between conveying important gameplay information and maintaining artistic merit.
Two Types of Gameplay
Each area in Aegis Defenders is split into two main parts. As you start each area, you’ll be platforming and puzzle solving your way through a fairly standard platformer affair. Standard doesn’t mean bad, though, and I enjoyed the familiar jumping and attacking my way through all sorts of nasties. Puzzles start simple, but get progressively harder as they rely on more and more interaction between characters and their abilities, and, much to my surprise, I actually enjoyed them. Some felt a bit too tough, but I’ve never been a particularly stellar puzzle solver, so that’s probably more a me problem than one with the game.
For me it was the defense areas that really brought the game to life for me. Every so often, for a narratively convenient reason, the protagonist party must settle in and defend some important mcguffin. What’s nice is that there’s no sharp cut between each type of gameplay. Every mechanic that works in the platforming sections work in the tower defense ones, too. While it’s important, and strategically satisfying, to set up your characters and defenses in a meaningful, effective way in between each wave, encounters are dynamic and hectic enough that you’ll still have to show platforming finesse to succeed.
Better with a Friend
Adding to the stress of the whole thing is that you’ve only got a minute to set up your defenses in between each wave of bad guys, which is never enough time to do what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to run around the area and collect resources to build things with. You’ve got to check to “health” of various placed objects. You’ve got to call over certain teammates to combo build with them. You’ve got to run around and “place” teammates where their AI will be best utilized. Then, once the action starts, you’ve got to make sure everything’s working in every corner of the fairly large play areas. Add in the other big strategic element, that enemies and weapons are color coded, with matching colors doing extra damage, and there’s plenty to test your strategic thinking. It isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, though.
It’s perfectly possible to enjoy Aegis Defenders solo, which is how I played it for review, but I definitely had a constant feeling that I’d be enjoying myself a lot more with a partner. It’d be nice to have some decent AI that can contribute more during solo play, and there were a few encounters I definitely thought were more balanced towards co-op and got a bit frustrating.
It would have been easy for quite a few things to go wrong with a game like Aegis Defenders, from Kickstarter problems to difficulties mashing together its two types of gameplay, but, with the exception of some small hiccups, everything turned out pretty darned smooth. It’s a game I wouldn’t have a hard time recommending to most, but one that is a must for anyone with the opportunity to play through with a friend.
Interesting lore and world, beautiful graphics, nicely blended multi-genre gameplay, many options for strategic thought.
AI doesn’t do a whole lot in solo play, some instances definitely seem balanced for a human partner.