REVIEWS -- Army Defender -- DS
‘Army Defender’ is a worthwhile DSiWare shooter
by Peter Fiorilla
Fun factor: Fun
Worth to: Buy
Certainly flawed but proves that talented developers are laboring on DSi-exclusives -- the kind of game that no shoot-em-up fan with a little extra cash should pass up.
Video games can do what few other mediums can: awaken a sense of pride among casual observers. Everyone feels better after slaughtering a few thousand baddies or saving the world from yet another space invasion -- it feels like a personal triumph to see one’s on-screen representation accomplish something, anything. For all that few in the DSiWare community will end up defending a fort from infinite hordes of heavily weaponed enemies, they do it in Army Defender, and it feels satisfying in the way that only video games can.
Good action… but why local leaderboards?
The game is played with the DSi held book-style (yes, there is an option for lefties). Enemies spawn on the left screen, your character shoots from the right. Firing is as simple as tapping on any location in the touchscreen, and accuracy is greatly encouraged; the turret is not rapid-fire, meaning that without accurate shots, the enemies will overwhelm you.
Not only are there infinite villainous-looking soldiers in the enemy camp, they are armed to the teeth with rockets, assault rifles and heavy machinery. The logical method of fending them off would be to lob big bad batches of bombs at the problematic opposition, which is done at the end of every brief mission, but in between bombing raids, the player must fight the hordes alone.
Even though the nameless protagonist is stuck in a single stationary turret the entire game, upgrades are offered numerous times per mission, and enemy soldiers cannot take much fire before poofing to the afterlife.
After each kill the game awards you some points, but killstreak combos are how to dominate the [local-only] leaderboards. Shooting numerous enemies in a row nets up to 10x the default amount of points; it takes skill to be able to keep up combos for very long, as the screen can become a hectic mess of explosions and marines. The area between the screens is No Man’s Land, artificially adding to the difficulty -- it is impossible to see units traversing the divide. This is an annoying if slight issue, and one of the only valid criticisms of the game’s actual content.
Because even if the uncharted territory in-between the screens were charted, Army Defender would still be difficult to survive for long in. Hostiles are not only offensively efficient, but can be intelligent, including an air marine that zigzags around the screen to evade your lead. Enemy patterns are varied and well thought-out; all ten units create an opposing army that is a blast to fight. Maybe it is the heavy weapons guys, maybe the t-copters, tanks, recons, jet fighters or parachutists, but there is some magical quality of Army Defender that just makes all of its bits and pieces click together in a satisfying way.
Ricochets take down some design bystanders
Part of this download’s success is due to its visuals. The two static backgrounds, which consist of nothing but desert and mountainous terrain, are nothing special, but the adorable sprites and solid animations are. They look strikingly similar to the cartoonish characters found in Advance Wars, which is rather fitting for a DSi download. Any attempt to create realistic graphics would have resulted in failure -- this is outdated portable hardware, after all -- and so the cutesy art direction can be commended.
Equally as applaudable is the rankings system, which records the 10 best scores for both Beginner and Expert difficulty. It also allows for a name up to six letters and remembers a single alias at a time, making recording pleasantly efficient. Inputting one’s name could have been easier, but is understandable why they did not include a simple keyboard alphabet; the vertical screen is not proportioned like a keyboard.
Holding the DSi like a book comes with more than this small sacrifice, however. Pausing the game with START is awkward and wastes valuable seconds of playtime, resulting in unfair attacks on your base. It would have been nice to have a two-second wait after unpausing the game, so that one could get the stylus in a comfortable position and comprehend enemy positions before being thrust into the action. As it is, the conclusion of each mission is the only reasonable pause-point.
The soundtrack, too, presents a problem. There is but a single track, and while it sounds nice, it is very repetitious. The game’s longevity relies on replayability, but listening to the same tune over and over again is tiring. If not for the excellent sound design, the sound would not be worth hearing beyond the first few minutes.
Kaolink’s project is certainly flawed, but proves that talented developers are laboring on worthwhile DSi-exclusives. It is a simple yet enjoyable ride, the kind of experience that video gaming excels in -- the kind of game that no shoot-em-up fan with a little extra cash should pass up.
Release Date: December 7, 2009
Review Date: 28-12-2009
Numbers of Players: 1
Players Online: No
Notes: DSiWare, Nintendo Points: 200
Sprites look nice and animate well, and the simplistic nature of the game ensures that neither screen is ever cluttered throughout the hectic battles. The Advance Wars-esque look is adorable.
A simple yet engrossing action game. Enemies are varied, intelligent and unafraid to fill the screen with smoke and explosions. The divide between the screens is irksome.
A very well thought-out package, even if pausing the game proves to be problematic. Record-keeping is executed nicely, but is offline-only.
Impressive sound design compensates for the repetitious soundtrack.
A brief experience, even considering the replayable nature of the game, but not so short that it feels like a rip-off.