Review: Dairojo! Samurai Defenders (DSiWare)

A strong defence, or will it just offend?

Here is it, folks. Yet another entry in the ever popular tower defence genre on DSiWare. With a focus on arcade-style high score achieving rather than plot-driven level advancement, Dairojo! Samurai Defenders makes for a slightly different experience while still retaining the same basic formula. Enemies are attacking and it’s your job to defend the castles of Japan, but is this enough motivation to keep you coming back for more?

The most noticeable thing when you first load Dairojo! Samurai Defenders is the vast amount of game types. There are three different single player game modes and a multiplayer VS mode. Among the single player game modes are Score Attack, Normal and Random; at a glance these modes all seem exactly the same, and that’s because they practically are. There are some slight differences, such as Random mode providing haphazard enemy patterns and Score Attack automatically recording your score even if you don’t complete a level, but that’s about it. Playing any of these modes provides pretty much the same experience, but the variety does add a bit to the replay value. VS mode, on the other hand, is a very welcome addition to the game – using DS download play you can face off against one of your friends locally and compete to see who can defend their castle longer against waves of enemies. This option's availability definitely makes this game more versatile and enjoyable for a longer period of time.

Dairojo! Samurai Defenders can be a very difficult game and it is definitely one that requires both skill and patience. Each level consists of 99 continuous waves of attacking enemies, and as there's no real break between waves you will be forced to quickly place down new troops and use items as they come. The levels are long and can quickly become overwhelming if you’re not paying attention to your defences, but after a few tries on a few levels you will definitely get the hang of it. In no time at all, you’ll be defending castles like a pro.

Each level is marked with a certain number of stars on the menu screen to determine the difficulty. The more stars there are, the more challenging you know it’s going to be. The levels start off by showing you where the castle is that you'll be defending, then immediately drops you into the game. Oddly enough, there is no tutorial available, so it might be in your best interest to check out the Help option on the title screen to learn about different items and attack types. Enemies come in two very basic types: ground and air. Certain units that you can place, such as archers and gunners, can attack either type of enemies, but spear-carrying soldiers and cannons can only attack enemies on the ground. Figuring out where enemies are coming from and what type they are sending is key to setting up your army in the right order.

Each unit that you purchase costs money and can only be placed on designated zones, marked by grey bricks on the ground and are located all throughout the map. The purchasable units all cost different amounts of money and can then be upgraded up to five levels by spending more money on the units that you’ve already placed, with money made by killing enemies or by receiving a money item found on the battlefield. Other items can be found with different effects, such as repairing some of your damaged castle or traps that can be used against the enemy.

The DSi’s bottom screen displays the map where all of the action takes place and your menu options while the top screen shows all of your statistics. The bottom screen is pretty straight-forward, but the top screen is cluttered with so many things that it can be daunting at a glance: it contains your score, the amount of money you have, which wave of enemies you are on, the health of your castle, a mini-map showing where enemies are attacking from, a hint of the types of enemies that will be attacking next, and a picture of an old man named Grandpa who will comment on the action of the battle. It seems like too much, but it all helps to keep track of what exactly is going on in the game.

This game can be played by either using the buttons on the DSi, the touchscreen or a combination of both. However you choose to play, what’s most important is getting a hang of moving quickly and being able to keep up with the attacking enemies. A very basic control scheme is maintained when using the buttons; the D-Pad is used to move around the map and menu screens, A is used to select something and B is used to cancel. The L and R triggers shift the map from left to right, and pressing both at the same time increases the game’s speed.

As far as the aesthetics go, Dairojo! Samurai Defenders both looks and sounds really good. The music and sound effects are nods to classic Japanese style music and battles marches, setting the mood perfectly for the ensuing battle and getting the player excited for what is to come. The graphics are sharp and all of the character sprites are detailed enough to be easily distinguished from each other, with colourful and vibrant maps that actually look like more detailed versions of the maps from the popular Advance Wars series. The only problem with all of this is that because of how frantic and fast the game is, the audio and visual can quickly become cluttered. There is no graphical slowdown, but when there are so many enemies on the screen at once it can be difficult to select the particular soldier that you are aiming for, and the overflow of battle sounds can become a bit overwhelming as well.

Conclusion

As tower defence games grow in popularity, more and more are being seen on DSiWare. With that being said, if you’re only going to purchase one then Dairojo! Samurai Defenders is absolutely the one to get. It provides a good challenge with fast-paced and addicting gameplay that will keep you coming back and itching for a new high score, plus the addition of Download Play and other extra game modes makes the replayability packed in this 800 Point title seemingly endless. It looks good, plays well and is an absolutely fun time to be had on the DSi.