After initially being conceptualized as a graphic novel, Aegis Defenders became a KickStarter game started way back in 2014, promising a unique blend of platforming and tower defense elements. After a successful campaign and a four year development cycle, the game has finally come out, and it was worth the wait. Aegis Defenders is a blast to play whether alone or with friends, proving that these two genres can be mixed in interesting and fun new ways.
Aegis Defenders primarily follows the story of two Ruinhunters named Clu and Bart, doing their best to survive by picking through the scrap remains of an ancient civilization. Once they find a mysterious robot on a routine day of scavenging, they soon find themselves whisked off on an adventure to fight a menacing empire and save the old gods that once ruled the land. It may sound like a story you’ve heard thousands of times before, but the characters are excellently written and the plot is brilliantly paced. In between chapters, brief cutscenes share a little bit more of the lore and backstory of this mysterious world that you’re dropped into, and the friendly, playful banter between characters keeps things lighthearted in between. Suffice to say, the world feels incredibly realized, and you’ll likely find yourself drawn in by the mystery and cheery sense of wonder that permeates the experience.
Gameplay takes the shape of a hybrid platformer/tower defense game, with plenty of customization and strategy elements to boot. The first phase of stages is where the platforming comes in, as you guide characters through a mixture of platforming, combat, and puzzles, to reach the end. Along the way, you must use the special abilities of each character in concert with each other to clear hurdles and unlock secrets. This segues into the second phase—which is rather like a “boss fight”—in which you have to defend a central objective against waves of enemies. Rather than being used to traverse environments and solve puzzles, character abilities are now used in a strategic fashion to fend off the enemies coming at you from various sides. Though initially it seems like it might clash somewhat, this mixture of genres feels surprisingly natural, with both elements proving to be equally engaging.
The primary hook of gameplay here is the cooperation element, which places equal weight and importance on different characters. Each character has a color, and do extra damage to enemies that match them, but that’s just the beginning of things. On top of this, each character has a different playstyle—like Clu using a rifle while Bart uses a hammer—and a buildable block item that can be used to solve puzzles and fight enemies. Different characters can then build their block items together, producing entirely new constructs. For example, Clu can make a bomb and Bart can make a basic turret, but when they’re put together, it makes a turret that shoots in bursts of three. Add in a couple more characters and construct combinations, and suddenly there’s a vast array of offensive and defensive items available to you.
If that sounds like a lot to juggle, that’s because it is a lot to juggle. Though new elements are introduced at a manageable and measured rate, it can still feel at times like things get a little jumbled when playing in single player. You can only play as one character at a time, so you have to go through lots of button presses and character swapping to achieve simple objectives. It’s not game breaking by any means, but it can be a bit tedious having to constantly select a character, confirm your choice, do a simple action, then repeat the process with another character. Over time, this becomes a matter of muscle memory and the issue slowly starts to go away, but it’s nonetheless an annoyance that might bother some.
Aegis Defenders was clearly designed as a multiplayer game, and it’s here that the gameplay truly begins to shine. Having a friend on hand to communicate and strategize with adds whole new aspect of fun to gameplay. Whether it be talking through how to best reach that collectible sitting up on the hidden ledge, or discussing which lanes to defend for the next wave of enemies, you’ll find that going through the campaign with a buddy feels immensely more satisfying. There’s no static split screen either; if you and your friend are separated, the game will dynamically shift the line separating your views as you two do your thing until seamlessly returning to the same frame. It looks pretty cool in action, and really helps to keep you focused on the task in front of you. Given that the Switch allows for this kind of co-op gameplay anywhere with split joy-con support, it’s easier than ever to play a round with a friend and clear a stage or two.
In between levels, spoils obtained from felling enemies and finding secrets can then be spent on customizations and unlockables for your party. Skills can be upgraded, life meters can be expanded, and wallets can be deepened, leading to a satisfying sense of progression as you move from stage to stage. One neat feature that we appreciated—seemingly inspired by Persona—gives players three dialogue options in conversations, with more EXP being awarded depending on if you selected the “right” response. This can be used in interesting ways, too, like managing to haggle down a merchant from charging you full price to giving you the item for free. As expected for scrapper nomads, resources are always short, too, which makes this section all the more involving as you labor over the decision of what should be upgraded before heading out into the field.
In case you haven’t noticed from the screenshots, Aegis Defenders is an absolutely beautiful game, and it’s accompanied by an equally hypnotic soundtrack. Though it’s nothing new seeing another indie title that uses pixel art, it’s quite rare that you see art as detailed and defined as you’ll encounter here. Every level is positively bursting with color and details like animal activity in the background help to make the world feel like a living place. Action unfurls with buttery smooth animations and the chaos of a battle makes for some serious eye candy. When the team makes camp for the night, the ocean of stars above them is gloriously full of light and you can almost feel the warmth of the fire. Couple all this with lovely, hand-drawn character portraits, and you’ve got a game that’ll have you reaching for that capture button more times than you think.
In the same vein, the soundtrack matches the artstyle perfectly. Whether it be a playful piano ditty while you pilot a mech suit that shoots cats or an emotional strings piece while you’re exploring a brand-new area, there’s a childlike sense of optimistic wonderment that’s being reinforced throughout the game. The soundtrack does a great job of setting up the right atmosphere when it needs to, further immersing you in this strange, fantasy world.
Aegis Defenders is a fantastic game, brilliantly blending the tower defense and platforming genres in a unique way to produce a memorable and enjoyable experience. Lovable characters, interesting lore, plenty of secrets, engaging gameplay, and gorgeous presentation combine to make this a must-have title for your Switch. We would recommend this to anybody looking for a detailed world to immerse themselves in, or to somebody looking for that next game to play through with a friend. Aegis Defenders is a real gem on the eShop; don’t miss out on this one.