Defenders of Ekron – Switch
Usually when a developer attempts to blend two genres together it results in something brilliant, groundbreaking or simply an unplayable mess. We are glad to announce that Defenders of Ekron is the former. You may not feel it is groundbreaking but it is certainly excellent. Blending 2D shoot-em-up with RPG elements and story has paid off. Retro Faith dives into this interesting mashup of genres on the Switch.
Defenders of Ekron appears to be a traditional twin-stick shooter when you first start playing. After a brief first mission and some tricky training a whole world filled with story and characters suddenly opens up. It certainly surprised us and we did not look back, we were engrossed. You are Eneas, a young recruit who wants to become a fighter pilot in a futuristic war. He has trained his whole life to take control of his Anakim. These advanced mechs have special abilities that make them very powerful.
Once your training is complete you uncover a secret laboratory experiment that you become embroiled in. We do not want to spoil the story any further as this title has lots of depth around character development and the world in which they are set. Let us just say that anyone who enjoys deep character plots within RPGs will get a lot out of this one. If we had to pick one genre to sum Defenders of Ekron up it would be action RPG, but this does not tell the whole story.
Developer In Vitro Games have poured a lot of love into this sci-fi fuelled romp. From the moment the story begins to unfold in the full screen world between missions you can sense the quality. The main game consists of flying your craft through various top down mission blasting and solving your way through. Yes I said solving, Defenders of Ekron has glimpses of puzzles as well as shooting. You then enter the characters base and move around chatting to colleagues where most of the story develops.
It is not often that we are able to enjoy decent storytelling in spaceship based games. Classics such as Elite or X-Wing vs. Tie-Fighter spring to mind but it is refreshing to play Defenders of Ekron. If all developers took leaps of faith like this the world of video games would be a better place. You can have your action thirst quenched and inquisitive nature tickled all in one game. The switch between action and story is also seamless as some of the story unfolds during the battles.
Moving onto the actual gameplay itself, you will be thrusted into a competent twin-stick shooter with enemies coming from all sides. The shooting sections are mostly on rails but there are also caverns and levels to explore. The sense of a living world that you are affecting is strong and grows as you progress. There are periodical bosses just like a traditional shmup but the added layer of wanting to know the who, what and why.
Your ship, an Anakim, controls well and has quite a few gadgets and gizmos. The standard laser blaster is on your right trigger and a secondary fire on your left. You use a scanner, Star Trek style, to work out puzzles and pulling both triggers activates a temporary shield. There are also other special abilities that unlock as you progress through the game.
The level of detail in the gameplay is remarkable and you will find the action swapping between blasting, exploring and solving at quite a rate. Everything about Defenders of Ekron just works seamlessly and without fuss. There will be purists who find the mashup of play styles too much but there is a lot here for most players to enjoy. If you are a general gamer then this could be the perfect game.
Visually Defenders of Ekron is colourful with great animation. The artwork is defined and the variety of areas keeps your eyes interested. From the skies to dark, dank dungeon type buildings the scenery changes often. When you are in your base between mission the backgrounds for the different areas are gorgeous. They feel like you are playing a point and click adventure with beautiful pre-rendered images.
The soundtrack fits well with the gameplay and there is quality here that is enjoyable and impressive. The sound effects are clear, defined and help bring this world to life. We were most impressed with the score during the shooter sections as the sense of urgency builds. Time and care has been taken to select music and sounds that compliment the art style and story. It is rare for a game at this price point to reach this kind of quality through its presentation.
Your ship can be fitted with upgrades in the hanger from power modules collected during the shooting sections. As your ship becomes faster and stronger you can take on harder missions. The power modules also act as your special meter during levels. A short burst of rapid fire can be activated that is useful against the tough boss battles. You need to find a balance between using your special meter and simply grinding it out as the missions are long.
Another great addition to Defenders of Ekron are the simulated training missions that grant upgrade points. These mini levels have star ratings with various objectives that need completing to get full marks. There are over 100 of these missions to complete so there is longevity to this title. To round off the bonus content there is another mini game that is a parody of the main game. A traditional vertical scrolling shmup in true 90’s pixel style.
We hope that there is a sequel for this title or the developer continues to innovate. You will be glad to experience a title as refreshing as Defenders of Ekron but there is still room for improvement. There are times when the ship feels cramped in an area, it is not a major concern but can cause a few frustrating moments. Some of the puzzles are not immediately obvious either and cause deaths that feel unfair.
Shooter fans will have fun in this engaging twin-stick blast while still being able to enjoy the story and puzzle elements. RPG fans will be treated to a real story sprinkled into an action game. Those that simply like a challenge will enjoy the light-touch puzzles and easy to pick gameplay. Not a perfect game but definitely one of the best indie titles of the last few years. You could spend a lot more on a full priced release and not have nearly as much fun.