Laser Disco Defenders is a twin-stick arcade shooter brought to us by Out of bounds game and Excalibur games. This review is for the PSVita version of the game, but for those of you who prefer PC experiences there will also be an incarnation released on Steam on 29/09/2016.
Firing up the game after you’ve been briefed on your mission (with some very Animal Crossing-esque voice acting) you have the option of 3 game modes:- Story mode, Endless mode and a Tutorial. To unlock story mode it is necessary to first play the tutorial, you don’t have to complete it though, which is a small grace for you as it is more a level in its own right than a tutorial, and good luck getting to the end. As it is, it is both a clean and pleasant method of incorporating the tutorial, however it does have its drawbacks.
The first is the higher than normal possibility in actually missing it. The tutorial is essentially mini text prompts within the first stage of its level, which are spawned when the avatar comes into contact with an invisible trigger. Due to the procedural nature of the game, it’s not guaranteed that the prompts are exactly next to the relevant item. The trigger area is also relatively small, and so a more gung-ho player could whizz straight through them without noticing. This is alleviated somewhat due to the fact that the text is not destroyed from the level once activated, and will re-spawn when the avatar triggers it again, so there’s more chances to be able to see it. It’s also a credit to the ridiculously smooth game-play, and definitely not a deal-breaker by any means.
The second problem is that it is very minimal in the information it provides. It’s offset with reasonably simple controls and learning through trial-and-error, which I believe is a informed design choice made by the designers, so it is not a negative point, rather it becomes part of the challenge of the game, and some small surprise moments. Start pauses the game as well as shows your progress on optional missions (which you didn’t even know you had.)
Your avatar moves in a Jet-Pack motion, and you control them with the left analogue stick. Holding the stick up increases altitude, whilst releasing it or moving in any non-vertical direction decreases it. The right stick aims your laser in a similar style of Bust-a-Move (minus the convenient ability to see where it will bounce) and by default the Right shoulder shoots. Besides the games core mechanic, there is a big impact on its difficulty through the nature of the PSVita’s controls’ high sensitivity. Trying to aim and shoot is very difficult when your aim moves as you shoot as the console picks up the minute movement. (What am I, some sort of Stormtrooper?)
The controls can be reversed, so that the trigger is catty-corner to the aiming analogue, making it easier. Of course, you can also leave it as it is for the increased challenge. Again, this seems like an informed decision by the designers, and I think they did a fantastic job in incorporating a hardware quirk into the fabric of the game. I’m very interested in how this will translate into the PC offering. I feel it’s worth mentioning that the tutorial does change accordingly, displaying the correct button after changing it, as some games do not and can cause undue confusion later on.
The main difficulty, and the games core mechanic, comes in the fact that your lasers don’t disappear once you’ve fired. Instead they remain in the level, ricocheting from the environment and causing all manners of havoc off-screen. Enemies and environment hazards can and will be destroyed off-screen, but you should me more concerned with (as it should do) getting shot by a laser, even your own, hurts.
Your attacks aren’t the only ones that remain either, every enemy’s laser sticks about too. This creates a scenario of incremental difficulty, where the more you fire your gun, or cause enemies to, the harder the environment becomes to get through. Cue the multiple deaths. And unlike other games, there’s no falling back on pattern memorization as each stage is randomly generated. There’s no running away either, as every enemy needs to be defeated in order to generate the portal which progresses to the next stage. Destroying environmental hazards is optional, but plays into the strategy based nature of the game, of weighing the pros and cons of an easier shot or obstacle removed with the additional laser you’ll be creating.
There is a good variety of enemy mechanics including Area of effect bombs which will go off once you’re close enough, and laser mines which you need to trigger to force them to momentarily cool-down in order to be able to kill them. (This sadly took me a couple of deaths to figure out) Enemies will occasionally drop a heart recovery which is either time sensitive or disappears once out of sight of the camera, I’m not sure which as I was busy at the time trying not to die and have yet to be able to recreate the scenario.
Some of the guns have restrained movement, where others have full 360 capabilities, there are also moving opponents, some of which have wonderfully irritating shields which block all attacks to the front. You receive points for each enemy destroyed, and a combo multiplier for each enemy which is destroyed by the same laser beam.
The game boasts amazing physics, with the laser trajectories, and subtle nuances of the character edging forward if not on a perfectly flat horizontal platform, cue more fun with trying to aim. There is an aesthetic effect, which I first mistook for a physics problem, called “Screen Shake” causing jitter, which can be turned off should it disagree with you. Throughout the game you unlock different characters and outfits with their own unique abilities and/or effects.
Laser Disco Defenders is aesthetically pleasing, with an unusual colour palette. Your avatar emits a faint glow which lights up areas around them, and the levels and hazards are somewhat abstract, with a similar feel to VVVVVV. The game features, as you would expect from the name, a funk/pop soundtrack, which may not be worthy of writing home about but is also not unpleasant, and loops very well, without becoming irritating after prolonged play.
Laser Disco Defenders has one of the most satisfying sound effects when you destroy an enemy or hazard. It’s one of those things which is really difficult to explain, but it just feels right. Which is good, as it is very easy to pick the wrong sound, which as something you’ll be hearing a lot of could quickly dampen the game experience. Of course, if you don’t personally like it there’s no reason to lose out on the soundtrack as the BGM and SFX are controlled separately and can be turned off independently of one another.
The Extras menu allows you to replay the intro, as well as play mini stories unlocked throughout the game which reveal the plot of the game. You can also view the credits and access the leader-board, which I must admit, I have no idea how it works as I’ve yet to manage to stay alive long enough to complete the game, but it’s not going to stop me from trying.
Overall the game experience provided by Laser Disco Defenders is fantastic, and will definitely be a fixture on the first page of my Vita’s wall, everything just fits together perfectly. It is incredibly challenging whilst remaining fun. The playability value is phenomenal from the main game, and I can only imagine what benefits the endless mode brings about. It has amazing re-playability value, as no session will ever be the same due to the randomly generated levels. I can’t help but be awed by the amount of time that must have been spent in perfecting all of the geometrical shapes and sections to generate all of the nuances and combinations the game is capable of.
I would really recommend this game, whether you’re a fan of the genre or not, you won’t regret it.
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