When first hearing of Aegis Defenders my interest was perked upon learning the game mixes classic platforming with tower defence. What’s even better is that developers GUTS Department have managed to make this gameplay transition within the levels feel organic and relative to the story. It’s this seamless fluctuation between gameplay mechanics, some excellent writing and a truly awe-inspiring hand-painted pixel world that make Aegis Defenders an adventure you should embark on.
The first thing that stands out when starting the game is just how stunning the environments look. These hand-painted layers of pixel artwork really make the world of Elam feel alive and a pleasure to play through. I’d often stop to just admire an ancient relic or vista in the background.
The story of Aegis Defenders sees you controlling a group of ruinhunters. This party starts with just two members, a Grandfather and a Granddaughter. Although other characters will join your party as you venture further into the oppressive world of Elam, the main through line sticks with these characters which make for some meaningful conversation and emotional interaction between the two family members.
As I previously mentioned, the world of Elam is a stunning one, but it’s also a very interesting one, with lore hidden around almost every corner. What’s even better about the fantasy rich setting is that the game isn’t shy on providing a backstory, which often comes through conversations between characters. These short text-based conversations do a brilliant job of continuously perking your interest, which is mostly down to their excellent writing and digestible length.
So, what about the mixed up gameplay Aegis Defenders offers? Well, I pleased to say it bloody brilliant, when playing alone anyway. Almost all the levels start with a platforming section, which is more puzzle based than combat based. The puzzles these nostalgic sections offer progress in difficulty at a perfect rate, although some of the later puzzles had me stumped I never felt like I couldn’t work out the answer. In many ways, these platforming sections of Aegis Defenders reminded me of the classic The Lost Vikings, where certain characters could only access certain areas, making switching between them on the fly a key dynamic.
Although this platforming act as a contrast to the frantic tower defence climax of the levels, they also act as a resource gather opportunity. Each character in the game is assigned a colour, similar to elemental abilities and each character has their own unique resource; Clu, the Granddaughter needs flowers and Bark the Grandfather needs golden rocks, later character also have their own resources. This individually tied resource emphasis encouraged me to hunt every area of the platforming sections, all in preparation for the big tower defence finish.
If you hadn’t guessed it by now, each level finishes with a tower defence section, which is triggered upon finding a new ruin or ancient artefact. These climatic stages challenge you to see off waves of enemies, all in the hope to protect the relic from damage, the amount of damage it can take depends on your progress in the game. It’s these frantic and tactically challenging defence stages that are no doubt the best part of Aegis Defenders.
Just like the resources, the tunnels in which enemies will spawn are assigned a colour, meaning a character attacking those enemies will deal three times the amount of base damage. Couple this with the large combination of traps, turrets and barricades you can set up, all of which require their own unique multiplication of character resources and each wave of enemies can require a lot of tactical thought. However, don’t take too long thinking as you only 45-60 seconds to gather resources, lay traps and repair turrets before the next wave are bearing down on you.
In the heat of these mini-battles, situations can get very tense, especially when resources are running low. What I loved about these tower defence stages of the levels was the real sense of triumph the victory screen brought. Every victory is down to you as the player, how effectively you position the team and managing your resources. Aegis Defenders does offer local co-op, and although having a human player during the platforming sections offered little difference, they do offer a huge advantage in the final stages of a level. If anything, they offered too much of an advantage, when playing with a friend I rarely felt any tension or was never juggling the decision of which character to control or which defences to repair, which are arguably some of the best emotions the game offers.
As you’d expect, finishing a level grants you with currency to spend on new items or upgrades to the items you can craft. Aegis Defender features two types of Currency, rep points and gems. The gems are pretty standard, the more enemies you kill of the better you do on a level the more gems your receive, which can be used to buy new weapons for your characters. The rep points or RP points as the game refers to them are a little different. Although you are rewarded some for finishing levels, your also rewards them during conversations, with the amount dependant on how you responded. The concept of this is fine, but I never really knew what response would return the most points, and it felt like the goalposts for this continuously changed. One minute a sassy answer would give me 3 points, next time it would give me one, and the fact that it’s these points you need to upgrade craftable items means that missed opportunities feel very frustrating.
On the whole, Aegis Defenders offer a fun, tense and beautiful adventure through the fantasy-rich world of Elam. The seamless transition between platforming and tower defence made each level feel unique. Although the puzzle sections are fun and the latter stages do offer a challenge, the star of the show is the frantic tactical rush that every level offers at its climax. If you want to experience Aegis Defenders at its finest then I recommend venture into this world alone, bringing a friend just makes it too easy.