Dairojo! Samurai Defenders Review
There's a new batch of downloadable tower defense games on the market practically every week, and on numerous platforms, so it's no surprise that the DS is graced with yet another entry through DSiWare. Dairojo! Samurai Defenders is a run-of-the-mill tower defense game with a samurai twist that takes place in the Edo period. It has a difficulty curve that makes me want to rip my hair out, and yet, I appreciate it that much more for the challenge.
With no active tutorial (text instructions only), you're left to figure things out mostly on your own. The game wastes no time with introductions, and thrusts you into the map screen to pick one of 10 different castles to defend. The higher the star count, the higher the difficulty, or so the theory goes. I naturally began with the easiest castle only to find myself defeated in a matter of minutes, and defeated again, and again, and so on. As I continued on this streak of losing and repeating, I kept learning new and more useful ways to place down units, which in turn, let me stay alive a little longer the next time. The game relies on old school mechanics of learning enemy patterns and using that knowledge to increase success.
A rock-paper-scissors equation is thrown into effect; Archers are best against flying enemies, Spearmen are best on the ground, Gunners do a significant but slower damage at longer range, the Cannon does great damage in a wide area but takes a long time to reload, and the General boosts attack-power to soldiers around him while also dealing some melee damage of his own. Each unit can then be upgraded up to five times to increase damage and effectiveness.
Five units seems like a paltry amount, but it lets you focus on placing and upgrading units quick, and not worry about scrolling through menus to find the best defense. Varying items can drop randomly from enemies such as extra coins, rice balls to increase damage, a hammer for repairs, smoke bombs and pitfalls to impede down ground units, and a forged letter that damages enemies that pass through it. These can be helpful in the most crucial moments and might save you from yet another Game Over screen.
The hardest part is figuring all of this out in the limited time you have between waves of enemies. There is a helpful icon on the upper screen that displays the next enemy, but I was usually too focused on the current enemy to pay much attention. The enemies are absolutely ruthless. Some emerge from underground, fliers cross the map in an instant, and some are able to disappear as they march toward your castle. When I finally annihilated the 99 waves in the easy map, I felt it was time to move to a harder map, which throws down two separate paths with two castle gates to defend. If even one of them falls, it's game over.
There are other modes including Score Attack, which is the same game with a hi-score, and Random, which spawns enemies randomly instead of set patterns. Needless to say, only masochists need apply for the latter. I have a love/hate relationship with this game. I appreciate the theme and setting, and there is something about the excruciating difficulty that makes victory unusually satisfying. The game would benefit immensely from a playable tutorial and adjustable difficulty settings. Dairojo! Samurai Defenders is daunting, to put it mildly, but if you're up for a lesson in tough-as-nails tower defense, then get your katana ready.