These days, it’s not uncommon to hear someone yearn for the halcyon days of the early-2000s games scene. It was a time when conditions were most ripe for quirky, budget-tier Japanese games that weren’t just bite-sized downloadables but showed an often-reckless willingness to experiment that you just couldn’t do in today’s AAA space. It was a time for games like Katamari Damacy and Earth Defense Force to break out and find a following, and for ones like Mister Mosquito and Gitaroo Man to enjoy their time in the sun.
In 2016, Aegis of Earth: Protonovus Assault carries on that spirit.
In Aegis of Earth, your job is to protect circular cities by placing and maneuvering weapon buildings so they’ll fire at oncoming enemy threats. Most of the time, that means rotating the rings of the city into position and creating building combinations that are more powerful by lining up specific units in adjoining rings. Threats will come at you from different directions, and you won’t have the resources or space to point your weapons at all directions at once.
Oncoming faster than those enemy threats are the Japanese B-game quirks.
The push and pull of the game’s strategy comes from these three rings. There are fewer plots available in the inner rings, but they’re also more protected than the vulnerable outer areas. You have power plants and residential buildings to keep safe, but using an inner space for them? That’ll deprive you of a rare opportunity to create a powerful three-piece combination cannon. You can spend your way out of some of these issues by adding residential areas into attack units, but maybe those resources should be used elsewhere? There’s also a trade-off between speed, range and damage of turrets. You’ll need a lot of fast bullets to take on weak hordes, but the gatling turrets most well-suited for that won’t really dent the large, slow foes that can really damage the city. And, of course, you can’t have every type pointed in all directions if you want any of them to be very strong.
Oncoming faster than those enemy threats are the Japanese B-game quirks. There’s a full cast of characters with various anime tropes, fleshed out more than they really need to be for the gameplay and full of their own weird spats and plot lines. There’s a degree of fanservice here; most of the officers are female, and many seem designed and written to develop a relatively young male following. It all seems phenomenally tame in the Senran Kagura era, though, and never goes into questionable territory.
These characters do serve to make it not feel like a standard tower defense game, though; developer Acquire wants you to get invested in the world rather than simply planning tower formations, and to a degree, it accomplishes it. The setting’s a post-apocalyptic one, with a few surviving cities in the world and a truly helpless population scrambling to assemble enough of a military to defend itself. It’s not believable, exactly, but it’s enough to suspend disbelief.
The other thing the characters do is talk. A lot. And no, you can’t really skip anything, including the repetitive multi-part messages that pop up when you unlock a new research project or get a new batch of citizens. Unfortunately, some of this happens after every battle, and it’s a bit of a checklist to get through everything. You’re going to need to tolerate this to enjoy the game, and that may be a dealbreaker for some.
The thing is this: none of these are failings of the game, exactly, because to fail you must try.
There isn’t really a lead platform for Aegis of Earth; it was originally developed for the PS3 and Vita and has made its way to PS4 as well, but it’s built in Unity and doesn’t take advantage of any particular system’s strengths. It chugs a bit. There are weird pauses. The visuals aren’t trying to wow you. Cross-save has been implemented in case you want to purchase multiple versions, a scenario that isn’t totally crazy with a budget price tag, but that’s about it with the bells and whistles.
The thing is this: none of these are failings of the game, exactly, because to fail you must try. Aegis of Earth doesn’t try to be technically robust or streamlined. What it tries to do is make this rotation-based tower defense thing that hasn’t been done before, and pile on enough gameplay options and pace the introduction of new elements to ease you in and keep you going. And, well, it does that, and doesn’t pretend to have larger ambitions.
Aegis of Earth: Protonovus Assault is the sort of game that benefits greatly from knowing its own limitations. It has its faults, to be sure, but the actual rotation of towers is compelling and fun, and there’s a ton of stuff to upgrade and research to make that defensive effort feel like it has a payoff. The game needs to cut out some of that button-hammering you have to do to progress through the repeated lines spewed by its characters, but that doesn’t break the fun you’re having the rest of the time.
And hey, sometimes you just want to feel like you’re back in 2003 again.