I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that most of the people reading this review fall into one of two groups: those who specifically searched for a Gotta Protectors review (there are only a handful of reviews out there), and those who have never even heard of Gotta Protectors. Admittedly, I was in the latter camp for a long time after Gotta Protectors released, but boy am I glad that I discovered this overlooked mid-2016 eShop game and gave it a shot. It’s the very definition of a “hidden gem”.
Gotta Protectors is a mix between a top-down action game and tower defense. If you just read the term “tower defense” and had negative thoughts, believe me, I understand, a lot of us are sick of the genre. However, I’d say it’s much more of an action game than a tower defense game, though it has sweet blend of both that makes it feel truly unique.
She may look helpless here, but princess Lola has a few moves of her own.
The story is a bit of a bizarre one about a princess named Lola and her castle being mysteriously transported to another dimension where mobs of enemies begin to swarm in an attempt to destroy said castle, with the only ones left to protect her being her (supposedly) mediocre personal bodyguards, the “Gotta Protectors.” To be honest it would be a throwaway story if not for some clever tongue-in-cheek writing and some well-placed breaking of the 4th wall. At the start of each stage you, as the player, get to select from one of the six Gotta Protectors (Fighter, Amazon, Ninja, Mage, “Old Guy” or Archer), and each has their own unique stats and play style. Your mission is to protect princess Lola and destroy the incoming hosts of enemies.
The gameplay is where Gotta Protectors really shines. As I said above, you control your character from a top-down view, giving the action a bit of a classic original Zelda feel. While part of your role is the typical tower defense stuff like building and repairing barriers and turrets, that’s really just cracking the surface. Gotta Protectors forces you to balance defending the castle and princess Lola with mad dashes all over the the stages to destroy enemy spawn points, protect villages, recruit other fighters, obtain treasure, and more, all the while fighting hordes of enemies (and the occasional boss) head on with a variety of attacks. It’s a very frantically paced game and you rarely get a moment to rest.
Use the environment to your advantage! Or not...
Speaking of the stages, they’re generally very well designed maps and include various environmental effects, warp points, locked doors (which you need to find keys to open), and more, sometimes making each map feel like a little adventure in its own right. There are exactly 100 stages in the main quest, which may sound like it could get pretty derivative, but Gotta Protectors generally manages to keep adding in new elements throughout, though I did feel like it was maybe a bit too long for its own good. The main quest took me over 25 hours to finish, and while I enjoyed it immensely, there was a point around stage 70 or so when the fatigue started to set in a bit. (There is also a hard mode that unlocks when you finish the main quest, but I didn’t really spend much time with it.)
In between stages you can spend money (and, for some reason, fruit) to upgrade characters, buy new weapons and moves, upgrade current weapons and moves, forge rings, invest in the castle / princess / shop / dojo to upgrade them, etc. Upgrades are either general or character-specific, and include both action moves (assigned to buttons), and “auto” moves which happen all on their own.
Powering up your character is worthless, however, if you don’t also spend money during the action gameplay to level up your character (you will always start at level 1 for all stats each new stage.) You can also spend money to build barriers and turrets, and recruit fighters from villages, and you lose money when you die, which adds an interesting dilemma when things start getting tough: do you spend money within the stage to help you get through it, or try to save it to beef up your characters and defenses even more in between stages? And if you’re probably going to die anyway, should you spend some money before you go? It’s certainly an interesting risk / reward mechanic.
It was actually kind of tough to find English language screens for this game.
All of this combines to create a gameplay system that is both simple to understand and engage with, yet holds a lot of depth, choice and customization.
The presentation is classic 8-bit style all the way, both in graphics and sounds, which wouldn’t necessarily be that remarkable except that it really feels authentic (except for, you know, the large masses of enemies on-screen at once that don’t produce any slowdown.) A lot of modern “8-bit” games always feel a bit off to me, but Gotta Protectors nails it all, from the sprites and animations to the soundtrack and sound effects.
Everything I mentioned so far would be enough to make this a must play eShop game in my eyes, but there’s even more! Gotta Protectors also has a local co-op mode that allows multiple owners of the game to play together, as well as “demo” co-op mode if you only have a single copy of the game, which is a bit more limited (players without their own copy can only choose the Fighter or the Mage, with less abilities), but still plenty of fun. Oh, did I mention that it has a fully featured map editor that allows you to create, share (through QR Codes) and play user maps? It’s quite a hefty package and in my humble opinion is well worth the $12.99 (North America) asking price. What might not be quite the same value is the “FM sound mode” DLC, which at $7.99 feels steep for something that doesn’t give you anything gameplay-related.
You thought you would get to fight a boss without also fighting hordes of enemies? Ha!
I absolutely love Gotta Protectors, but it’s certainly not a perfect game. One of my main complaints is how easy it is to accidentally move princess Lola into harm’s way (you can “push” her where you want by walking into her, which is a great idea to add a bit more depth to the gameplay, but often space is cramped in the area you’re defending and it can be hard to not
accidentally push her around. Make a mistake and push her into a throng of enemies and you’re pretty much not getting her back.) Speaking of throngs, another minor complaint of mine is that there are often so many enemies packed together that it’s hard to move around. There is a nice dash move that lets you dash past enemies, but when it’s a huge group with literally no space in between to dash to, that doesn’t really help as much as it could, because dashing into the middle of a large group is a surefire way to die fast. I also feel like the tower defense side of the game takes too long to open up, for instance you can’t even build turrets until you’re very deep in. And I wish the game gave you access to more action powers at once, you only get three slots to use and between building barriers and turrets, various movement and defense powers, and offensive and special moves, three slots don’t go very far. For some reason the shoulder buttons duplicate moves, and it’s a bit confusing why they didn’t allow these to be used for their own moves. There are a lot of neat sounding moves I never got around to trying out because there just isn’t enough space to fit them into my move mix.
I know that sounds like a lot of complaints, but really, they’re mostly minor ones and don’t get in the way of an otherwise excellent game. It legitimately saddens me to know that such a gem flew under the radar, and with the Switch out and kicking the 3DS is getting a bit ignored, so I hope that at least a few of you decide to give it a shot. Gotta Protectors wins on so many levels: great classic aesthetics, a unique mix of action and tower defense gameplay, a large amount of stages to play through, a simple yet deep upgrade system, local co-op with both multi and single owner options, and a map builder, among other positive traits. It’s a great package and one that I highly recommend to anyone who is even slightly interested.
Even when surrounded, all hope is not lost. Fight on, Gotta Protectors!