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Evil Defenders (Switch) artwork

Evil Defenders (Switch) review

"One major flaw transforms Evil Defenders from something special into something most folks would do well to avoid."

Let's not try to sugar coat this: demons and goblins and banshees and various other hellspawn are bad news. They just are. But in Evil Defenders, they also happen to be your best friends. So when the humans living just across the border from your realm (who to a man look like giant Jay Leno heads attached to ragdoll bodies) get rowdy in a tavern one night and eventually decide to invade your territory and take out their aggression on you rather than one another, you can't sit idly by and let that happen. To battle!

Yes, Evil Defenders is a tower defense game, just as its title suggests. But this time around, you're not trying to stop the vile horde. Instead, you're trying to wickedly relax and send those irritating do-gooders packing. You will achieve that end by employing the usual tactics: bow towers, infantry, explosives, etc. If you've played a lot of tower defense games (and I have, because I inexplicably can't resist their siren call), then you know approximately what to expect.

But do you really? Really, truly? Yes.

The first mission begins with a quick tutorial that introduces you to most of your towers. There are five types, and I already mentioned three of them specifically. The other two are a magical pedestal (which you can go right ahead and admit you sort of expected) and a unit that doesn't do much beyond slowing everyone's approach. Of course, you are soon introduced to upgrades you can apply over the course of each battle that make attacks more devastating and improve defensive stats and imbue weak units with devastating efficiency and perks. Despite the unusual motif, this is standard fare.

Evil Defenders (Switch) image

I didn't mind how familiar everything felt, honestly. A mostly typical tower defense game is exactly what I was looking for, and this one surprised me in a lot of the right ways by executing things so carefully. I've played more than a few really crummy tower defense games that felt like they were thrown together over a lazy weekend and too many beers, and Evil Defenders isn't that.

For starters, the game is gorgeous. The tutorial stage is my favorite evidence of that point, and even though I have played on that map dozens of times (I'll get to my reasons for that in a minute, when I introduce the surprise twist and explain how the game ultimately disappointed me), I don't get tired of admiring it. A beautiful waterfall cascades toward a basin, and the river flows across a road so that troops march across it using a bridge formed of boulders as water rushes around them and slows their progress. Clumps of grass grow along ledges lined with pine trees and brush, and sway in the breeze. The troops themselves are beautifully detailed and expressive as they march determinedly along the screen with pikes at the ready. They even have proper shadows, not just blobs of gray, and the animation throughout is lovely. I've seldom played a tower defense game that looks this good.

Evil Defenders (Switch) image

Players do sort of pay the price for that beauty, but the fee is manageable. There are load times between stages, which last 5 or 6 seconds and even an impatient person like me didn't mind them too much. Would I like it if they were even shorter and enabled a more seamless experience? I certainly would. But they're a very minor annoyance as-is.

When the game first loaded, it surprised me with a neat little video that wordlessly explains the story I laid out in this review's opening paragraph. It wasn't Pixar-quality stuff, but it was quite good just the same and there was a rousing song playing in the background that really got me into the spirit of things. The music from that point onward remains strong, even though there aren't a lot of unique tracks, so that although I was hearing the same tunes over and over again, I didn't have a strong urge to mute the volume even after hours of play.

On a nuts-and-bolts level, the game also performs admirably. The souls you earn from completing stages (and then clearing them again on higher difficulty settings that unlock after a successful initial run) go toward permanent upgrades to your towers and to general stats and to the special attacks you can activate. I've played some games where those special effects had to be replenished regularly if you wanted to make use of them on subsequent maps. Such a mechanic discourages regular use. I prefer the approach employed here, where you can beckon a giant bruiser of a fellow--appropriately named Hellman--and let him rampage through enemy units for a time before he returns from whence he came. You endure a cooldown window and may even be able to summon him again by battle's end. After spending souls, you can chip away at the delay between uses... and plenty of other things besides. In addition to your abilities, which aren't limited to the crimson behemoth, most maps include special attractions you spend gold to activate, and they'll slow down or harm the pesky humans in sometimes amusing ways that might just also give you the edge you need to eke out a victory.

Evil Defenders (Switch) image

But anyway, I mentioned a twist and here it is: the game is too difficult for its own good. The balance feels all wrong. There aren't a lot of unique stages (fewer than 20, even), but they will last you an awfully long time because progress is painfully slow. Quickly, I found myself unable to advance until I played through the "Challenge" version of easy stages repeatedly and earned enough souls to upgrade my units so they weren't all but useless a few nodes into the campaign map. This process is tedious, even with the option to double or quadruple map speed... because even with units powered up almost to their maximum, it's still remarkably easy to fail the very first map on its more difficult settings when you try to rush. With things sped up, enemies somehow sneak through the precise same defenses that on lower speed settings would serve as the perfect roadblock. Yes, I've tested. It's like the game wants to punish you any way you can for trying to hurry through its spectacularly overkill grind.

I'm all for a challenge, and I have cleared maps in numerous tower defense games on their highest settings with all of the stars and accompanying accolades. Evil Defenders kicks my butt and keeps right on kicking it because no matter what units I throw at the more heavily armored foes, they cut through my forces like a knife through butter until I power them up to their maximum level (or close to it). That tedious dynamic led me to wonder if the game wasn't designed specifically to encourage players to say "Screw this, I'm buying a bunch more souls for $19.99 on an App Store." So I checked, and there is indeed the option to make that investment, for those who play the free-to-play edition on mobile. The Switch version doesn't offer that shortcut, and I'm sufficiently poor that I wouldn't want to even if I could.

Evil Defenders looks and sounds great. It wrings a lot of depth out of its five basic tower units, by the time one factors in branching upgrades, and the special attacks and environmental twists add a welcome element of strategy. Here is a game that crossed nearly every "T," dotted nearly every "I," and yet I can't happily recommend it to any but genre diehards because it simply it stacks the deck too aggressively against the player. Maybe watch for a sale and try it anyway, because there's definitely something to love here under the layers of pain. But I suggest holding off until then, or even just giving the "free" mobile version a go instead.


honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (May 19, 2019)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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