Tower defense games seem a sure, though not particularly adventurous, bet for the modestly-sized developer. As difficult as it is to find a masterpiece among the likes of Dungeon Defenders, Defense Grid and Orcs Must Die!, it may be even harder to resist the genre’s core loops. Resource management and fortification plans keep the strategically minded busy, while in-battle, real-time tweaking means that mowing down hordes of incoming enemies while incurring the least amount of damage isn’t a task reserved for the niche audience of turn-based titles.
That Aegis of Earth: Protonovus Assault was made on a limited budget is immediately apparent. We often describe visually unspectacular games as “last-gen,” but Acquire’s latest wouldn’t feel out of place in a PS2 collection: a handful of screens (mostly the different city layouts you unlock as you progress), restricted cameras and still character frames. Audio is similarly shortchanged: voice acting only intermittently corresponds to full chunks of dialogue text and is otherwise mostly restricted to a couple of catchphrases per character.
The premise will be a familiar one to fans of animated shows like Neon Genesis Evangelion: a post-apocalyptic Earth where the few remaining urban centers are attacked by monstrous creatures and a last line of technologically enhanced defense emerges as humanity’s only hope for survival. We start out somewhere in the South Pacific, organizing the resistance in the city of Kimberley. Like all others, it is little more than a series of concentric circles divided in segments – plots of land forming a (mostly) blank canvas for players to fortify with Gatling cannons, missile launchers and laser turrets amidst the shopping malls and residential blocks. The three inner rings are where most of the artillery will be installed, while the fourth, the outermost ring, is reserved for sturdy bulwarks to keep out the enemies that have survived the barrage, as well as a number of utility units such as repair drones and immobilizer guns.
Typically, success is a matter of allocating resources to cover immediate needs while allowing for future expansion. Weapons are necessary to keep your city safe, but an investment on accommodation for immigrants fleeing the catastrophe elsewhere will raise, along with the population, the taxes allowing the purchase of even more expensive units in the long run. Occupying every available plot may be temporarily effective, but will prevent you from introducing more advanced pieces of equipment into your defenses after research makes them available. And though there will be times when the vaults will seem to overflow with cash, tempting you with a spending spree on new technologies, the sudden unlocking of a new city and the need to fortify it from scratch, will summarily demonstrate the folly of such wastefulness.
Once the planning stage is completed, players are free to start the battle. As waves of enemies approach, rings are revolved individually so monsters can be targeted by specific weapons, or blocked before entering the city grounds. The unique gimmick here is what Aegis describes as “merging”, the process whereby two or three weapons (of the same type, but in different rings) are perfectly aligned increasing their firepower, range and experience points gained per kill. It’s a smart idea that adds a layer of complexity to an otherwise straightforward affair, the units clicking together with a satisfying animation and the geometrical thinking involved in efficiently moving each of the differently-sized rings making real-time puzzles out of combat situations.
Assisting in these defensive duties is a cast of characters each with their own role and backstory. Much of the charm in playing Aegis is provided by the wartime romances, sibling rivalries and friendly bickering among this colorful crew, their histories slowly unfolding as a sort of narrative reward after successful missions in a manner reminiscent of the Advance Wars series. There are six classes specializing in different aspects of the war effort and each of the twenty characters has at least one unique power. Unfortunately, with the latter triggering semi-randomly (based on a Focus statistic that must be kept as high as possible) and under the chaotic conditions prevalent during combat, it becomes rather hard to keep track of active powers, let alone exploit them to your advantage. Even so, the fundamental mechanics of the game remain quite serviceable, not terribly exciting but balanced enough (if a bit on the easy side) and governed by their own hypnotic rhythm. The systematic annihilation of enemies is as pleasing as ever, new cities provide opportunities to test out different tactical configurations before existing ones become too familiar, and the brief but powerful bursts of Ultimate Strike Weapons allow for the excitement of a more hands-on approach.
The main flaw in Aegis of Earth: Protonovus Assault becomes apparent a few missions in, when basic principles have been established and the lack of variety hits home. Having built up your defenses there is really not much to do between missions other than commissioning the occasional research, watching the teen-soap theatrics, and waiting for the next city to unlock. Combat also feels rather repetitive featuring a very limited range of enemy types (a total of fifteen, many of which take several hours of gameplay to unlock) mostly requiring a stock set of tactics: choose between missile, cannon or Gatling, merge, destroy, repeat. It’s never a disagreeable process but neither is it a particularly inspiring one.
Despite suffering from low production values and lack of variety, Aegis of Earth: Protonovus Assault is a solid, if unexceptional, tower defense game. It may have nothing new to offer, but the combination of tried and tested mechanics with a dash of teen-soap drama turn its eleventh-hour attempt to organize humanity’s last line of defense into an adequate diversion.