The Powerpuff Girls: Defenders of Townsville, available now on Steam, is a game that made me think. No, it didn’t present me with any interesting moral quandries, nor did it push gaming forward in any way. Rather, I found a new appreciation for a genre that typically has failed to grab me—the Metroidvania.
Defenders of Townsville isn’t a terrible game, but it is a terribly unexciting one. What could have been an interesting blend of side-scrolling shooters and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night instead became a bland, straightforward display of what does and does not work in a game like this. But first, let’s talk about the game itself.
Mojo Jojo is causing havoc, and the girls go out into Townsville to stop him. He greets them with an amnesia beam, this game’s excuse for recovering your powers as you go. It doesn’t make any sense, but it gets the game moving. You start the game as Buttercup, and need to find your sisters, and Mojo, by traversing a series of caves, factories, sewers, and Townsville. None of the areas are fundamentally different, and neither are the three playable characters (you can switch between the three powerpuff, similar to Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow’s real-time character switch.) What follows is a fairly dull 2-3 hours of punching robots, collecting powerups, and doing it again in the next room.
This is where the game began to show off the inherent fun of the Metroidvania design. For a short time, that simple objective was enough to keep me going. However, the pace and variety at which the game hands out new abilities is a detriment to the experience. It’s not that Defenders of Townsville rarely gives you new pickups—you are handed one in nearly every room—but rather that the ones you do get either make the game considerably easier, or is one of many you collect to upgrade your health or power meters. For instance, you start the game with the ability to move left or right. Soon after, you gain the ability to punch. At this point, the pacing seems fairly standard. I was seeing areas that I would later return to with more abilities, and enjoying the game. It was around that time that I gained the ability to fly and use powerful ranged attacks, almost breaking what before seemed like a carefully designed world and difficulty curve. The unlockable second quest fixes the pacing errors, but
This is the biggest problem of The Powerpuff Girls: Defenders of Townsville. You get too powerful too quickly, making the last two thirds of the game rather boring. After I gained Buttercup’s shockwave ability (the equivalent of Super Metroid’s wall-piercing wave beam), I rarely used any other means of attack. The only times I switched powers were to open up new areas. The world almost feels too big, as you can explore the entire play area after rescuing the third Powerpuff, a process that takes hardly an hour.
The game’s look is another problem. While you can switch between the new, modern look of the series and the classic version, both are lifeless and dull. The newer look has a slight edge, with more detailed backgrounds and bloom effects, but the game is not pretty. This impacted the gameplay, too. There were times where I couldn’t discern a background texture and a platform. While it never resulted in a death, I did get hit a few times because I bumped into a platform, or tried to take cover behind an object that wasn’t really there. It persists in both visual modes, unfortunately.
Rather than being an enjoyable game, The Powerpuff Girls: Defenders of Townsville is an exercise in game design and pacing. Developer Radiangames a game so transparent in design that it nearly becomes a checklist of dos and don’ts for aspiring Metroidvania designers. If you’re a long-time fan hoping for a nostalgia trip, then this game is worth skipping. If you’re looking for a cheap, non-offensive game that has a few fun lines (I did laugh at the game during the last few cutscenes,) then this might be worth considering, especially if you have yet to play another game in the genre. It’s far from broken, but it’s also far from a fulfilling experience.