Nowadays, you’re most likely to hear the phrase “tower defense” preceded by the phrase “ugh, not another.” Between indies, flash developers, and even some big publishers, the subgenre feels more than a little played out. But while basic tower defense games feel rather stale, it seems like there are endless possibilities in using tower defense sensibilities in genres other than Real-Time-Strategy. Hybrid games like Sanctum 2 and Orcs Must Die have found a lot of success using tower mechanics for more action-oriented play.
Aegis Defenders has clearly taken these successes to heart to build its frenetic fusion of platforming and lane defense, but those aren’t its most interesting inspirations by a mile. You’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone on the planet who isn’t enamored with one Miyazaki film or another, but while everyone loves the works of studio Ghibli, it’s rare to see anyone try to emulate them – their style is almost too distinctive. GUTS Department clearly isn’t intimidated, though, and from Aegis Defenders‘ first frame the influence of Miyazaki, and Nausicaä in particular, is plain as day.
The game’s story concerns a group of humans eking out a near-medieval existence in a world sent back to the stone age by a great war. To these people, the screen you’re reading this on would be seen as black magic. When an ancient robot demigod’s empire threatens their home, huntress Clu and her engineer uncle Bart set out to find the Aegis – an ancient weapon that may be their only salvation. Once they find it, normally docile monsters begin to dog them at every turn, and they must defend their treasure using Clu’s traps and Bart’s turrets. Fans of Miyazaki’s work can guess that there’s more to the Aegis than meets the eye – and it may well be more trouble than it’s worth. It seems like a very Ghibli plot indeed.
Which is not to say that Aegis Defenders lacks its own distinct style. Artist Bryce Kho filters the Ghibli influence through borderless, posterized pixel art that looks positively gorgeous in motion. The smooth animations on display here put just about everything this side of Wayforward to shame, and Clu and Bart use their fantastic run cycles to move through a number of beautiful and inventive environments. Equally inspired are the enemies, which range from soldiers to spiders to monstrous blobs, and are all animated with the same exacting fidelity as the protagonists.
Gorgeous as Aegis Defenders looks, it sounds even better. Power Up Audio, the studio behind the brilliant soundscapes of TowerFall Ascension and Darkest Dungeon, have blended together influences from games and anime alike to deliver a soundtrack that feels wholly unique. The game sounds ethereal, mystical, and highly cinematic, but you can definitely pick out its roots in old-school RPGs as well.
Aegis Defenders is a treat to behold, and it offers multifaceted, challenging combat to boot. It’s a real scramble to erect your defenses between each wave of enemies, and once they start flooding in you’ll have to run around with your characters, taking out any enemies that manage to slip through. There are plenty of options in both styles of play, and the game seems open to a lot of experimentation. All in all, this is shaping up to be a stellar inaugural effort for GUTS Department, and you can make it even better by helping them reach stretch goals like local co-op. If you’ve always wanted to explore a fantastic world like the Valley of the Wind, or if you’re just looking for a fresh tower defense challenge, show Aegis Defenders your support.