Tower defense games seem to be all the rage in this new cell phone, iPad, PSN, XBLA society, where quick, on-the-go matches can safely test the strategies of even the most unskilled beginner. Strangely, they seem to be even more successful when they’re colorful and cute. Take, for example, Castle Crashers and Plants vs. Zombies, adorable, cartoonish homages to the time-tested practices of raping, pillaging and undead cannibalism. So it’s no surprise that the upcoming Dungeon Defenders features a water-color art style and a handful underage, cute-as-a-button heroes left to defend the castle while their even more heroic parents are away for the weekend.
Set in the kingdom of Etheria – presumably a different Etheria than the one protected by She-Ra – Dungeon Defenders tells the story of how a group of brave warriors once vanquished a great evil into the heart of a glowing crystal. These crystals, called Eternia Crystals – presumably a different Eternia than the one protected by He-Man – were stored away deep in the castle. But when the children of these brave heroes are left to their own devices, the crystals are shattered and the warriors-in-training are left to defeat back the rampaging evil.
The set-up itself is simple. You progress up the tower attempting to hold back the onslaught of demons and ogres with a strategic mix of weapons, defenses and traps. The four children represent your basic classes: Mage, Knight Squire, Huntress and Monk. The Mage has access to long-range spells and a series of elemental traps; the Knight Squire is a short-range, melee warrior with some heavy-duty bladed traps; the Huntress commands a stronger selection of traps, but also a relatively weak crossbow; and the Monk is a mixture of the best and worst of each class.
There’s a fair amount of looting in Dungeon Defenders whereby players will gather better weapons and armor, as well experience crystals that’ll allow for skill and trap upgrades at the Forge. A thumbs-up, thumbs-down, or thumbs-sideways icon will pop up to inform you whether the item before you is an improvement upon what you already have. If not, strip it for parts or disenchant it for more cash. You’ll gather and purchase more traps as you progress through the title – each of which can be individually upgraded – but bare in mind that bigger, better traps require a greater amount of resources to set down.
A few examples of traps we saw in our brief, hands-on demo were defensive barriers, bladed barriers, a bowling-ball gun, a sword-spinning turret, bumper-bouncers (as in pin-ball) and fireball launchers.
Early levels will allow players unlimited time to position their traps before triggering the demonic invasion. Enemies will flood the hallways attempting to destroy that level’s crystal, and if you’ve set your traps at the very best choke-points, defeating the stragglers with your weaponry should only be a matter of strategic combat. It’s worth noting that the one boss battle we encountered – a flying, fire-breathing dragon – posed a decent challenge, but our victory was diminished when we were told that our character was roughly four times as powerful in this demo as you’d normally be at that point in the game. So patience and expert command of the field will be key to ascending the tower.
Victories will be celebrated in the Heroes Tavern where your weapons, trophies and various other achievements will visually impact the look of your home base. From here you can upgrade your equipment, traps and skills.
Dungeon Defenders is surprisingly fun in singleplayer and even moreso with a friend. The title is Move capable and 3D ready if you’re on the forefront of gaming technology. But from its colorful presentation, demanding (though accessible) gameplay and tight level design, what we saw seems well worth the $10 you’ll pay for it…