Pocket Hound: Dairojo! Samurai Defenders (DSiWare) Review

Tower Defense games were created on the PC platform. The fundamental gameplay, placing and upgrading structures in rapid-fire succession, necessitated the need of a rapid-fire input, the keyboard and mouse. The genre flourished on the humble PC, from a simple sub-game distraction to a market all of its own, with the now-multi-platform Plants Vs. Zombies leading the charge. Many developers have attempted to transition the genre to the DS, only to discover that the platform’s stylus input offering the same versatility doesn’t necessarily equate to a successful title. Abylight set out to combine the appropriate mix of gameplay depth, challenge and spot-on controls in Dairojo! Samurai Defenders to break the mold.

Dairojo! Samurai Defenders plays like your typical Tower Defense title: enemies approach from various locations and attempt to assault your base. Players, as what one should assume is the overlord to the castle, must defend our stronghold by placing various military units on established areas. Dairojo! Samurai Defenders eschews the recent trend of story-driven TDs for the old-school mentality, securing a High Score.

Breaking the trend further, this defense game features a healthy amount of modes and a splash of customization. Normal, Score Attack, Random and VS modes greet players at the title screen. Don’t get too excited. All three single-player modes are palette swaps of each other. Normal is about finishing the level, Score Attack tasks players with gaining the most points and Random switches up the types of mobs that assault each attempt, leading to ever-changing scenarios. Changing scenarios is key, because there is a limited number of maps shared between the three modes, making the layouts easy to master. The only bit of customization comes from item drops. Players can select how the items are chosen, at random, in a roulette, none, etcetera. The VS mode in a DSiWare TD is a godsend. The ability to play against another human in a survival mode via Download Play is the first feature that sets Dairojo! Samurai Defenders apart from its competition.

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Dairojo! Samurai Defenders isn’t for the faint of heart. The game is incredibly challenging, even to skilled Tower Defense players. Those looking to get acquainted with the title before diving in can browse a short, GameFAQs-style tutorial in the Help menu (likely a bare-bones guide to save on space) that helps educate, but falls short in certain areas. Most of the time, the in-game descriptions of units and mobs is enough, but the subtle hints for items falls short for the min-maxers out there. And the intelligent use of these items is crucial as players progress through the unrelenting waves (99 for each and every level) of would-be conquerors. Dairojo! Samurai Defenders contains five usable and well-balanced items that players can deploy in offensive or defensive capacities.

As the waves flow, players acquire cash and points for dispatching them. Points are just for bragging, the cash is what leaders will need to repel an attack. The coin is used for purchasing new units, but upgrading existing defenses as well. There are five types of units, from direct melee damage, buffing and short- or long-range artillery. Each unit can be upgraded four times, gaining strength, range and debuff effects depending on level and class. The coalescing of an army via standard deployment on the map and strategic upgrading is what makes Dairojo! Samurai Defenders such a strategic masterpiece. Players will need to utilize the level design and a unit’s strengths to overcome the rebellious raiders, as they attack with an even more diverse set of characters. Melee, land, air, mini-bosses, even underground assaults will be launched upon the castles of Japan.

Someone at Abylight understood the importance of an easy-to-understand user interface. Each unit’s level can be discerned visually thanks to a simple color-coding scheme; All units of level one are blue, two are green, and so on. Alternatively, small dots, like that on a die, corroborate the information. Unfortunately, the buff from the General class seems to overwrite the mathematical visual representation. The more prevalent color scheme is shrouded, but still discernible.

Technologically speaking, Dairojo! Samurai Defenders doesn’t set itself apart. The graphics and sound are on par for a DS title and the screens are used in an intelligent fashion. The top screen is reserved for information, a map, unit specifics such as level and damage, or a mobs health. The bottom screen is kept clean for the action and input, which can be done (slowly) via D-pad and buttons or with the stylus. Or mixed. For a game of this type, controls are of the utmost importance, and Abylight’s implementation is spot on. This area also contains a pause button and a fast forward button, especially useful when the perfect plan has put pressure on petulant pursuers.

The DS platform has seen its fair share of TD games, but few have been of the quality, depth and difficulty, for better or worse, as Dairojo! Samurai Defenders. The 800 points for the title is expensive by DSiWare standards. Considering the fact that the game can stand up to retail DS TD releases, Dairojo! Samurai Defenders is an easy recommendation at the low price. Download VS play and Random mode keep things fresh, despite the limited number of levels. Quite simply, Dairojo! Samurai Defenders is the best TD I’ve played from the DSiWare bunch.

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