Wrapped up in a colorful, Ghibli-like shell, Aegis Defenders from GUTS Department can be deceptively approachable. It’s a smart mix of tower defense and 2D platforming pumped full of heart. The only problem is the game comes with a heavy caveat—it demands you play co-op if you have any intention of finishing the campaign. And for many, that is a major dealbreaker.
Ruin Hunters For Life
Aegis Defenders tells the story of Bart, a kindly grandfather who’s skilled with machinery, and Clu, his spunky granddaughter. The two go on an expedition and eventually get caught up in a grander scheme, potentially putting the world at risk as heroics ensue. Along the way, they’ll meet up with Kaiim, an ex-monk, and master thief Zula.
Their story occurs over the course of several levels. Each one of these levels are broken up into two parts. The first part is platforming, the second is a tower-defense style boss stage.
The platforming in Aegis Defenders is alright. You’ll guide your characters to the end of a level hopping from platform to platform, fighting monsters and solving puzzles along the way. Neither the combat nor the puzzles are too difficult at any time. The controls are fairly responsive but not incredibly fine-tuned if imprecise. But compared to the tower defense sections, these parts can feel like filler.
At the end of each stage, you’ll reach a machine of some sort that needs to be defended. To defend, you’ll use resources you’ve collected and build machines to attack oncoming baddies. Each character has a specific color that corresponds to their damage type and unique defenses that they can build. You can also combine the characters’ weapons together to make further variations of defenses. Once you’ve finished a wave of monsters, you have 1 minute to mine resources again and build more defenses before a bigger and badder wave comes your way. Clu and his crew also have character weapons, like laser blasters and hammers, that do less damage but allow you to hold back enemies to some degree when your turrets and mines can’t hold up.
The tower defense portions are the heart of Aegis Defenders. They provide an intuitive combination of platforming and strategic tower defense, while also being generally fun and challenging. In execution, these stages feel much more action oriented than strategic as you hop from platform to platform, shooting oncoming beetles and attempting to get to the last yellow resource block needed to build a turret. It’s exciting but it also has just enough strategy to it that you need to plan out your next move carefully.
Enemy waves come from all sides so you’ll have to switch between characters to make sure you dealing the correct damage type to the correct color enemies. The resources to build defenses are limited as well, making it difficult to have a complete defense. This character and resource management often serves to make the gameplay dynamic and tense, but it also creates the game’s biggest downfall—Aegis Defenders expects you to play the game with friends.
When playing solo, you have to manually switch between characters in order to get your compatriots to move, build, attack etc. The system works fine enough in theory, but as the game progresses and gets harder, the amount of time you lose and the lack of versatility your defense has makes later stages impossible. In particular, there is one level halfway through that challenges you to defend a moving defense point. I’ve never come so close to throwing my Switch at the wall as I did dying time after time before even reaching the middle stage. I eventually had to ask my sister to assist me, teach her how to play. Even then we barely scraped by.
Which reveals a crucial flaw: Aegis Defenders does not scale difficulty for the number of players. The game expects you to complete the same challenges, sloppily juggling four characters at once as you would be with four independent and capable minds defending different points simultaneously. It almost breaks the game for anything outside of co-op, and it personally made me cannonball from ardent praise to feeling like I was pulling teeth just turning the game on.
The difficulty issue even ruins the game’s side missions. In each level, you’re awarded extra points if you meet certain goals. Clear the stage with a certain number of hearts. Find all collectible relics. The list goes on.
To make matters worse, if you die in the middle of a platforming stage as you’re attempting to collect relics, you lose all of them. And there are points of no return making it impossible to backtrack.
Despite these glaring flaws, Aegis Defenders is still worth your time. The characters are immediately lovable and interesting, and the story is fascinating. It maintains a sense of intrigue and does a nice job of building the character backgrounds so your interest grows along with them. The art is stunning. Teeming with color and style, pulling off an immediate Studio Ghibli vibe that even seems to influence the music and sound design. It was a world I wanted to be lost in and was eager to learn more about.
The core concept is solid. Bouncing around levels, building defenses, shouting to your friend that you baddies incoming, working together to build new and stronger defenses. It adds up to a lot of fun.
Aegis Defenders is a good experience that fully prevents itself from being great. There’s a ton to love in its mixing of platforming and tower defense, but ultimately you’re required to love it with a friend. Otherwise, you’re better off looking elsewhere.