Aegis Defenders (Switch eShop) Review
Aegis Defenders takes place in the world of Elam, a world once filled with advanced technologies and weaponry. Much of it has been reduced to ruin and a shadow of what it once was. You start the game controlling Bart and his granddaughter Clu. Bart, an engineer wielding a hammer and Clu, a trapsmith who can attack from a distance. Together they collect junk and relics for trade. When finding an old robot with knowledge of a legendary weapon called the Aegis, they find themselves on a journey to find it and ensure that it stays out of the hands of the powerful (and of course evil) ruler of the land. Initially it’s just Bart and Clu travelling along with a merchant. Along the way, you will meet two additional characters with new skills and their own reasons for joining the team, on the race to defend the Aegis… hence all the defending in the title.
Aegis Defenders has two different notable game styles — platforming and tower defence. Each level carries this structure. The first section is collecting resources and currency, finding relics and taking down enemies. The second section remains a platformer, but you are tasked with defending a base in the middle of the playing field. On each side are tunnels from which waves of enemies will emerge, trying to reach the base. To defend yourself you will need to collect resources that are used by each character for building defensive and offensive structures. For example, Bart’s repertoire consists of barriers and turrets, and Clu makes ground traps for doing gradual damage. It gets more interesting when you begin fusing structures.
When you fuse one of Bart’s structures with Clu’s you get more powerful and versatile devices to use. When you have the four characters, you will have access to a wide variety of structures to accommodate any player. In between waves, you’ll have a timer where you can repair anything that’s been damaged, gather more building resources and lay out new traps. Resource collecting can be a bit tedious when you need to jump around the area collecting them. Thankfully, one of the characters introduced makes the process much easier. The game displays what tunnels to expect the next wave to be coming from so you can plan accordingly and not left wasting resources.
Another key gameplay element is character switching. At the press of a button, you can change between the other members of the party. Some sections of the level are only accessible by an individual character, or you’ll need to have everyone work together to activate switches and to make the fused structures. This can all easily be played in single player mode, but there is also a drop-in mode where a second play can join. Better yet, you can do it all using the two joy cons. The defending sections benefit most from having another player as it saves on having to constantly watch both sides of the field, it all moves along quicker, and co op is just fun. It is only playable locally, but this is a game that would benefit from having the other player there to communicate with. When your characters go further apart, the game moves into split screen display, and even from the handheld mode it works quite well. When more characters become available, the co op still remains as two players. To save on confusion when switching, you only have access to two of the characters each, a neat solution.
To keep it all from getting too easy all the enemies in the game have colour coded armour. To do the most damage you need to hit them with a weapon of corresponding colour. For most of the game, each character will carry two weapons each of different colour. This definitely assists earlier on in the game when it is just Bart and Clu, to ensure at least one weapon is good for a certain enemy. As the party expands it gets a bit more complicated, but it is a welcome change. This colour coding carries on over to the tower defence sections. You’ll also need to work out what structures will do the most damage, or what will just wind up getting destroyed. During the defence sections, the best chance of survival comes through actively fighting back the waves. The playing field often has moving parts that make it hard to rely on your structures alone. It’s a good feeling when you’re doing really well on one of the later waves, working together in unison with your defences while you switch between characters and take advantage of their weaknesses, seeing some of the tougher enemies go down without breaking a sweat.
The good news across the eight+-hour story, the different section play well. There is enough to do as you explore and learn more about the enemies you’ll be facing in the defence stage. Throughout the level, you’ll want to explore everywhere as collecting relics and currency are vital to getting bonuses at the end. This goes a long way to buying new weapons and keeping your structures upgraded. The platforming is generally fun to play as well. I do want to compliment the developers GUTS for making the Tower Defence sections challenging but passable, and making two different game styles work well together. Games with dual gameplay elements can often come at the risk of having one element upsetting the balance of the game. For example, if you are good at platformers but not so great at tower defence/resource management. It creates unnecessary barriers of entry, and half the game can feel like a frustrating ordeal to enjoy the parts you can play. In Aegis, I never felt so overwhelmed with the defending section that I could not go back and try something different. The different characters and variety in defences meant I had plenty of options without having to brute force my way through.
Aegis prides itself on its 16 bit pixel art style and it is right to do so, it looks good. Throughout the story there are a few different environments that do the pixel art justice. There is character art that feels like it could be from a Studio Ghibli movie (check out Nausica), or Chrono Trigger. The characters are all distinct. With the art and the dialogue between the characters, you’ll find plenty of charm as you get to know them all better across the course of the story. The music is also reminiscent of this era of gaming. Like the visuals, it only adds to the game. Besides the occasional voice Aegis Defenders could easily have fit in back in the 90s.
Between levels is when you get to take a breather and upgrade things. You can level up your structures to make them more powerful, purchase upgrades that can give you a health boost, or get better weapons. There are two currencies used in this section – gems you pick up from enemies or find lying around the levels; and points you largely earn through correct dialogue choices. Depending on your choice, you’ll earn between 1-3 points. You will want to be getting as many of these points as you can (why would you not want more of any currency!), because these points are used towards upgrading your structures. This gets all the more important the tougher the enemies get. It can get a bit frustrating when some of the choices of dialogue do not seem to be much different, and you wind up with the smallest amount. You also earn bonus currency if you accomplish goals in the levels, such as collecting all the relics, or completing the level with enough base health. It is important to complete the goals that award the upgrade points, as they will make up the bulk of paying for those upgrades. When you are with the caravan between levels, make sure you keep a good eye out for any extra NPCs standing around. There are some cool little side quests that include cameos from other games that can also give you some really good weaponry, and a nice outfit that fans of those games will find pretty neat.
Overall, Aegis Defenders plays well. Unfortunately, when things get busy the frame rate can suffer. It doesn’t make the game unplayable, but it is very noticeable when it happens and can distract from action-packed defence waves. On several occasions the game also crashed, taking you back to the Switch menu. While it does not usually take too long to get back to where you were, it was still an ongoing issue. Hopefully this will be sorted out in a patch post release.
Aegis Defenders has a lot going for it. If you’re looking for a platformer that has heaps of old-school elements to it, that feel is captured well here. GUTS has managed to combine two different styles of gameplay well to make a fun game, helped along by interesting characters you’ll get to know along the way. Whether you play this in single player or with a friend there’s plenty to enjoy. Aegis Defenders is worth checking out.
+ Great 16 bit art and music
+ Good Co op
+ Solid platforming and Tower defence
- Frame rates
- Game crashing