Well, I’m only lightly defending this, so maybe not the best titl-oh. That’s the game’s name.
Welcome back to Steam Sifter, where I go through the mixed and negatively reviewed games on Steam and see what’s a gem in the rough and what’s genuinely garbage. This week, I bring you DEFENDERS (spelled in all capitals so we know the game is cool), easily the most interesting game in the series so far. I say that because it’s close to being good.
Close to being good, not actually good.
I should have paid closer attention to the steam page.
This one released earlier this ear by new group Bright Lanterns, and they advertise that this is the first game in a series of fantasy epics following brave heroes with such names as Stormhawke and Firesong, which are possibly some of the greatest names ever invented by man. However, a quick glance at the screenshots tells you that this game is not so much a fantasy epic, and more of generic indie platformer #347987529. That’s short selling the game, though. Despite the non-existent narrative and ridiculously simple graphics, there are some great ideas here, and promise for something really enjoyable.
The problem is that the developers aren’t …very good. Right now. They could do great things in the future, but this game …yesh.
The game is divided into three main modes (two which support co-op). The first is Stormhawke, following a random fantasy hero traveling a series of linear levels that look like slightly gussy-uped Eversion early game stages. You move to the right and kill monsters while jumping around, simple. Same mechanics for Firesong, which changes things up by having you go through a series of challenge rooms while your deaths are tallied. Then there’s Dungeon Delve, which is terrible.
The mechanics and ideas at play are certainly not bad ones. Your characters can move around and wall jump, and they have arrows they can fire in four different directions. That’s a neat idea that gives combat a few extra dimensions, like letting you snipe away at enemies above you, or clearing pits before going down by hanging on the cliff and making it rain. You can even fire in the air. Where things instantly fall apart are the level layouts and terrible design decisions.
Stormhawke didn’t really interest me at first, and I got tired of it about four minutes in when I realized the level design is terrible. After giving you a lot of free space to get the hang of movement and controls, the game starts throwing a lot your way you can’t do much about. The weakest enemies that aren’t airborne take two hits to kill, and this mode really likes grouping them into swarms at the bottom of pits. This makes them difficult to kill, and forces you to either take the game numbing slow, or just try to jump past them. However, if you fuck up, expect to lose a lot of health, because you don’t get invincibility states after a hit here, or if you do I never noticed because they’re so short. There’s a segment where you have to make pixel perfect wall jumps in tight spaces or instantly get ganged up on by blobs, which is where I knew I was done.
Firestorm is much better, by all respects, and should have been the premise of a fleshed out game on its own. Here, you have to move through challenge rooms filled with enemies and traps, and every room has far better design and ideas at play, taking advantage of different elements. Some rooms have spring puzzles, some require you to love off screen to appear on the other side (ala Pac-Man), and others still require you to time your falling speed. It’s way more clever, but also not free of the game’s inherent issues.
Shooting arrows is strangely more difficult that it should be. It’s not a rapid fire thing, there’s a wait time for your arrow to load and shoot. However, there’s no animation or sound to give feedback, and the time to load is so short that it feels instantaneous …except it clearly isn’t because there are times when pressing the fire button does not fire the arrow. Jumping also feels very awkward. It’s a tad too fast and free. Meat Boy could do tricky walljump puzzles well because you had a lot of upward airtime. The Megaman X series made it work by limiting how far out you could go by just jumping off a wall. Here, you move very fast and can travel father than you’d think, and reaction time for turns has to be insanely good to pull off certain jumps.
There’s also whole new bullshit here, like many rooms spawning you right in the paths of enemies, or simply out of a safe zone so you can get your bearings. While the game advertises its difficulty as a feature, and lord knows there’s plenty of masochists out there who will find something out of the level design here, there’s nothing fair about just spawning your character in a random spot in a new room without time to adjust and even see where the character is.
The dungeon mode is simply awful. It’s a place where level design is barely a concept, and the color scheme is so poorly thought out that it’s easy to mistake the ground as sky. It also removes four way shooting, which is ridiculous. That’s the game’s best feature, and it’s not there. You probably have to buy it with gold you collect, but I cannot be bothered. I was booted into a level that ended up being swarmed with a flood of blobs falling into every crevice, and I got stuck in a pit surrounded by enemies. It was simply complete bullshit. Good roguelikes give you room to move, even if random chance can fuck you over. This is just a mess.
DEFENDERS is something I want to like and champion like I did with Bad Hotel, but the complete lack of understanding of level design and fair difficulty just made it unpleasant to play. It doesn’t really have much in the way of personality to fall back on, either. I think the devs could make something good one day, they show promise. They’re certainly excited, having planned out a huge fantasy universe already. They seriously need to read on the basics first, that’s all. Not a particularly terrible game, but certainly not good. Keep trying, Bright Lanterns. Don’t be discouraged. This ain’t a bad first try. I mean, it’s a bad game, but for a first try, it’s forgivable. But I still wouldn’t recommend it.
The finds so far:
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