At first glance Defenders of Ekron looked like a typical top down shoot’em up. Not that there’s anything wrong with that as the likes of Soldner-X are remembered fondly by yours truly. What I didn’t expect was an interesting mashup of metroidvania and 2D shooting. Not to mention the Furi-like levels of boss battles. Plus, there’s an actual evolving story with dramatic tones and surprising tension. Needless to say Defenders of Ekron is anything but ordinary. However, that also applies to some rather unique problems and downfalls.
Defenders of Ekron follows Eneas, a young and talented pilot, who’s just getting into the armed forces of Ekron. This futuristic utopia is a sprawling civilization that is protected by Anakims, mechs with traditional projectiles and special abilities tailored to each pilot in the form of Isaveras. The first few missions see Eneas passing training courses and certifications before discovering that his Anakim doesn’t have an Isavera. Unexpectedly he’s treated like an outcast or an anomaly to some and whispers reveal this isn’t the first time. Unfortunately, before anything can be figured out rogue Anakim pilots show up and trigger a social war. Revenge is fresh on Eneas mind and so are a few mysteries that have been hidden from the public at large.
Gameplay is a nice mix up of genres, but the core experience lies with our Anakims. You’ll be able to fire basic projectiles to destroy ships and deploy a protective shield if necessary. You can also suspend a secondary projectile in the air and fire when you deem fit. The most fun though comes in a Mega Man-esque copying of powers. This ability will grant you fun and useful upgrades that I won’t spoil here as they tie to the story. There will also be a section for you to upgrade your Anakim with Oxus which drops from defeated enemies. The usual will be improved upon like health, damage dealt, storage, etc. Most importantly the level design will mix things up and encourage the use of every available tactic you have. Certain enemy attack patterns or vulnerabilities will make sure of that.
Speaking of level design, Defenders of Ekron blends some things like I mentioned above. Some sections will have an animated background indicating movement while ships come for you. The standard shoot’em up formula. Other areas will require exploration and you, the player, will move the screen. This is where the metroidvania feel comes into play and you’ll even be given a faster mode of travel. Enemies will still appear, but the pace is all dependent on you. Lastly, the handful of bosses in the game might as well be their own world. Each of them is unique in some form and will require different techniques to best them as well as some smarts on your part. The appropriate comparison truly is like the boss battles found in Furi, just on a top down scale.
Replayability is a little sparse after the three to four playtime. There are some training missions to complete with your Anakim and of course trophies to hunt. Invaders of Ekron is a completely different game mode that takes the title’s aesthetic and applies it to the likes of Space Invaders. I found it provided me a few minutes of fun and definitely classified itself as a mini-game. Another fun tidbit I feel needs mentioning are the still, hand drawn cutscenes. All dialogue is through text and a slightly moving portrait of the character talking. They were simple yet artistic enough to convey some darker moments. Point being the character artists were appreciated.
While we’re on the topic of text boxes it’s prudent to mention they can be riddled with grammar and translation errors. This won’t cause much of a ruckus but when it happens you’ll definitely be made aware in your reading. A bigger problem to focus on is Defenders of Ekron’s lack of structure. There will be times where you think the game has bugged because you’ve been traveling or scanning things for so long. One such issue lasted for two literal minutes of traveling on-screen, over a repetitive background, with no attackers. The game is also not very clear at times regarding objectives or strategies. Now this is acceptable for the rather involved boss fights as you have to find a weakness in their strategies and exploit it. When it’s not ok is when you can’t complete a level because you haven’t completed another, similar level which gives you the means. Or puzzle solutions that require the use of Anakim abilities you weren’t made aware of up to that point.
Defenders of Ekron PS4 Review
There’s something special about the way Defenders of Ekron mashes a few genres together and manages to tell a competent story. Coming from one who’s played this I’d recommend checking your expectations at the door. Sadly, the experience is hampered from questionable design and structure issues that keep Defenders of Ekron from emerging within the top down shoot’em up library. There is something to see here, but nothing worth rushing to buy or not waiting on a sale.
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Reviewed using base PS4