From wars to foxes, there’s nothing like a good old battle among the stars. In the wake of more cinematic titles such as Manticore: Galaxy on Fire and the upcoming Everspace, Zotrix: Solar Division has snuck on to the eShop in an attempt to carve out its own hybrid take on intergalactic altercations.
A hostile alien race known as Zotrix are a continuing attacking threat and it's your job to help Solar Division Command by defending fleets, protecting your satellites and stopping an invasion on your craft. For all the generic science fiction vernacular, this intriguing hybrid of real-time strategy and tower defence first appeared on PC back in 2016.
As a spiritual successor of sorts to the more upfront classic arcade twin-stick shooter Zotrix that appeared on consoles and Steam, Solar Division launches with more strings to its gameplay bow. Overall, the user interface and presentation of Zotrix Solar Division is functional but could be more user friendly, especially if you are playing in docked mode.
The tower defence element of the the game is pretty straightforward. There are a total of 15 different towers at your disposal, with various damage, range and autonomy. Ranging from drones that can patrol from one point to another, to more standard lasers and homing missiles. During a particular stage, however, you may have a limited number of towers and supplementary structures to enhance them, because everything comes at a cost. By taking down wave after wave of enemy ships - which are set on a fixed path either orbiting structures, asteroids or trying to find their way to another area - you’ll earn credits which will bolster your stronghold against increasing numbers or more resilient craft. Enemy ships may come from more than one direction, follow different paths or change their speed.
The strategy element is where you balance your resources and upgrades while assessing where on the map they should go, and the risk/reward of maximising firepower. Either use credits as they get deposited to buy cheaper but weaker weapons, or bide your time and save (if you can). Whether you're preventing a certain number of ships from entering a safe zone, protecting a vulnerable structure or just surviving for a certain amount of time. Jumping straight in, there is a sense of complacency that can set in due to its seemingly slow, turn-based nature, and you can get caught out, but we will cover that in more detail later.
Before things kick off, you are presented with half a dozen or so modes to mess around with, aside from the standard missions on offer that are split into 15 sets of three. As well as classic, you’ll get the chance to try out all towers, have maximum credits from the outset, or attempt an endless (horde) mode. In addition, there are three difficulty settings for each mission. The number of waves you face in any given stage range from half a dozen to more than 30, from a single line of ships or a barrage multiple, interconnected paths could be filled with larger and different types of craft.
Despite the layout of architecture and flight paths of enemy craft, each stage is essentially a grid for you to place your towers on. In game, although it is easy to tell the different towers apart, but due to the size of the icons and items on screen, it can be finicky and take a little while to get used to. This is even more of an issue when using more traditional controls, and the transition from using a mouse and keyboard from the games PC days has been bumpy to say the least. Once you’ve selected a tower by clicking in the left stick, opted to place it with 'ZL', moved it around wildly with the stick, resorted to using the left Joy-Con buttons to accurately move it square by square, only to go through another option menu, you’re ready to move on.
Using a combination of clicking in the left or right sticks and the shoulder buttons, the whole process of selecting, placing and upgrading a tower initially feels arduous. Using the right stick, you are able to explore and toggle a few significant gameplay options, such as the speed of the incoming craft, choosing when to deploy the next wave, or having them launch automatically. These options do make proceedings more immediate, especially with multiple entry points and objectives. In addition, you can toggle the grid overlay, enemies flight path or even a visual representing of their speed at different points. This changes the game even further, as paths of multiple enemies can combine and bottleneck, needing a different approach than merely using up everything at your disposal.
While the depth to the strategy is welcome, the touch controls are by far the easiest way to be in control, but you could benefit from using a stylus - everything from the text explaining weapon abilities to the cost of upgrades to most of the ships themselves are pretty tiny. The interface has changed somewhat from the PC version, with certain options presented on the field of play rather than in the menu on the side. This again can be pretty frustrating but will ultimately depend on your play style.
There’s a reasonable amount to enjoy here if RTS and tower defence games are your thing, but the instances of tense, engaging combat can be sporadic. It certainly won’t wow you in the presentation department, as the bland areas, eery minimalist soundtrack and constant generic praise from your subordinates range from serviceable to grating, but Solar Division has its moments of satisfaction if you opt for strategy over spectacle.
Zotrix: Solar Division looks basic, even archaic, compared to recent offerings, but there’s something oddly compelling about watching the events unfold - especially if you get the balance of difficulty, speed and resource management tuned to your liking. Granted, the stages are varied but not exactly beautiful, however, the number of modes, weapons and in game options combined with online leaderboards and an alien encyclopedia make it an addictive and curious mix of genres. Proceed with caution, but you may well find yourself enjoying it in spite of its control and presentation blemishes.