Last year, Xbox One saw its fair share of shmups. This year, however, they’ve died down ever so slightly. Defenders of Ekron – Definitive Edition is the latest entry the genre has seen for a small while, and a small while yet to come. The game is described as an adventure shmup that blends together several distinct elements to give it its own unique edge, and although it somewhat works as far as the mechanics go, there’s still something not quite right about the overall package. This isn’t a terrible game per se, but it could have been much, much better.
Defenders of Ekron throws players into the role of Ekeas, a cadet that has been training his whole life to pilot Anakim; a mech that’s capable of absorbing and transforming its surrounding energy into special abilities. Before long, shit hits the fan and Ekeas finds himself thrown into an experimental program that sees him fighting back against the Renegades; rogue hordes of Anakim pilots that are hell bent on civil war. By and large, this is hardly what one would describe as an original story concept and if anything, it’s far too predictable for its own good.
Hell, even the game’s characters come across quite generic and predictably asserted. Don’t get me wrong, the story does become slightly more interesting later on in the game, but for the most part, the plot’s pieces are something you’ll see coming together before they actually come together. It doesn’t help that the dialogue text-speed is set high, making something as simple as reading a tedious task. Die hard fans of the genre will likely easily overlook this in place of the gameplay’s core foundation, but those looking for something with a bit more kick will likely be left feeling underwhelmed.
The gameplay loop is what you would expect from any given shmup; dive into a level, blast anything that moves and make your way to the end. You’re given total 360 degree aiming, allowing you to make easy work of enemies coming from all angles. Large tank-sized boss battles typically await you at the end of each run, and these tend to offer the most challenging segments of play within. They can at times feel a bit too much “bullet-sponge” but they provide excitement nevertheless. One interesting touch is the game’s varying modes that you can fast-swap through.
On top of the default combat mode, players can utilize altering modes that enable you to travel areas in greater speed or scan the immediate environment. These varying craft modes feed into the overall loop in one way or another, lending the fields of play some diversity as a result. The game’s controls are twin-stick, making for a very accessible experience regardless of your skill level. The control feedback can be a bit imprecise at times, but I cant say that this occurred enough for me to alter my overall score. Technical issues on the other hand, that’s an entirely different story.
On two occasions my game had to be restarted due to a technical blip; freezing. I was willing to forgive the first instance as an isolated occurrence, but twice on the same level? No. Sorry, that crap doesn’t sit right with me. With its technical and its design issues to the side, Defenders of Ekron is a passable shmup. I enjoyed the enemy variation and the solid audio and level design from start to end – despite it being a short(ish) game. This definitive edition brings with it some additional extras that we see time and time again in games of this type, but they’re a welcome inclusion regardless.
My only other main gripe is the actual visuals. Colorful and vibrant when there’s a lot of action going off at once, but when we remove the fights, everything just looks a bit lifeless and plain. Still, when all is said and done, the shmup concept is as dominant here as it needs to be; shoot, kill, upgrade (from a range of firepower), rinse and repeat. I’ll reiterate, if you’re a fan of the shmup genre and you can forgive some problems here and there, you’re going to pull more from this than I could. Defenders of Ekron tries its hand at new things, but doesn’t quite pull them off as well as one would hope.
Defenders of Ekron is passable at best. I wont deny that the game shines at its brightest and is at its most exciting when there’s a lot of action on screen, but the moments that lead to that, despite some interesting ideas, often struggle to maintain grip. There’s also a few technical issues and poor design choices to contend with, on top of the game’s play-it-safe story. Fun indeed, but hardly compelling.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.