If there's one thing French studio Moving Player knows how to do beautifully, it's presentation. Its new title Cocoro: Line Defender is inspired by Japanese watercolour-style art, with bright environments and striking dark outlines reminiscent of the 2006 classic Ōkami. Sporting a traditional flute-based soundtrack and characters with Japanese names, Cocoro is an audiovisual pleasure that takes full advantage of stereoscopic 3D.
Once you get past the exterior, Cocoro is a very standard 2D strategy game. You control one of four armies based on the basic elements of fire, wind, water, and earth, and battle them against other armies in a series of single-player missions. Your warriors, known as "Yoko," generate one by one in real time on the 3DS' touch screen, and as soon as they're completed you use the stylus to toss them onto the battlefield on the upper screen. Like Angry Birds, you're trying to throw your units with precise trajectories to land them where you want them to; it can take a while to get used to, because you toss them from left to right on the lower screen and then appear from left to right on the upper screen.
The battlefield is an empty plane where your units trudge forward while your enemies do the same, with the goal of reaching the other team's base and destroying it. You don't have any control over the actual combat – units always march forward, and always attack the first unit that comes into their range. Your control comes in deciding what units to put on the battlefield; some are quick and weak, some take longer to spawn but are stronger. In addition, you can pick your units' weapons, from short-range swords to long-range magic spells and throwing spears. You unlock more units and weapons as you complete missions; Cocoro boasts 90 different combinations overall, but for the most part you'll end up sticking to a handful of favourites.
The first thing most players will try to do is lob their Yoko as far as possible across the battlefield, which is perfect for attacking but leaves you open on defence; as enemies bare down on your base, you'll need to learn to aim shorter so your units don't overshoot their targets. It can get frustrating to defend your base when enemies are directly attacking it, though, as any sort of throw will launch them too far – you have to simply place them on the far right side of the touch screen to get them to spawn outside the front door of your base, which is unnecessarily awkward to accomplish.
The unit management and throwing mechanic sound ripe for complex gameplay, but it gets repetitive quickly. Most levels are variations of the same exact "spawn units and trudge forward toward the enemy base," and the challenge seems to come not from elegant game design but from overwhelming waves of enemies marching towards you. Losing a battle isn't all in vain, as you'll still earn orbs you can use towards upgrading your weapons... to a certain extent. Many of the higher-end upgrades are locked until you beat a certain level, so if you've maxed out your weapons to their highest possible stats for a given battle and are still stuck, there's nothing you can do to make the level any easier.
There's not enough variety in gameplay to allow for many different strategies to approach the challenge, so many players may get frustrated and quit after hitting the first difficult battle a few levels in. There are a few wrinkles to gameplay – after a set amount of time, you can use a special attack that affects all the units onscreen, and when to use it can be the deciding factor in whether you win or lose a battle. You can only keep four units on the lower screen at a time before tossing them into battle, so you'll have to manage them on the fly; this real-time strategy approach is when Cocoro hits its stride... but the stride is still an underwhelmingly short one.
Cocoro: Line Defender is an aesthetically pleasing real-time strategy title with a dearth of variety. The mechanics have potential, but the novelty of the Japanese folklore-inspired visuals wears off quickly and what we're left with is a colourful, meaty collection of repetitive missions. The price point is low enough that big fans of simple mobile strategy games may find something here, but otherwise you may want to skip this Line.