Gotta Protectors: Cart of Darkness begins as it means to go on – with a hearty parody of something only players of a certain age will likely remember. Ancient’s logo pops up and then…nothing happens – not until you hit the ‘A’ button on the side of the screen like your Switch is a wayward CRT TV that’s had some trouble. better days. This sequence is left entirely unexplained; you’re just expected to be the kind of person who gets the reference right away.
The same can be said of so many other nods to RF switches, age ratings, and hundreds of stat-boosting carts with IP dodge names like Illinois James: Temple of Darkness. Much of this love for a bygone era comes naturally from Ancient itself, the developer whose heritage dates back to 8-bit hardware. But there’s also credit to the translators at 8-4: the text is still alive, the jokes regularly hit the bull’s eye, and there are some great lines that involve threatening to run over someone flatter than 2D or “ride faster than a hedgehog during blow treatment!” along the way.
So it’s obvious that Gotta Protectors loves 80s games, 80s games and all the culture around them. But the fantastical pixel art – much of which will already be familiar to fans of previous Gotta Protectors on 3DS – great chiptunes and a fondness for a time when Vanilla Ice appeared in a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles the movie can only get one game so far.
Luckily for everyone, the game itself is an absolute riot, often going beyond standard tower defense territory and ending up in a place that can only be described as “strategic chaos“. You and up to three friends can tackle the game’s expansive and fun campaign mode in a casual way, and to ensure solo players are never at a disadvantage, each four-stage mission begins with the main player choosing a team up with three of eight different classes to lead into battle, characters that can be switched between them at will and also customized with new and increasingly expensive sets of abilities from the town shop. It’s entirely up to you: Tackle missions with a squad of barricade-creating Gotta Protectors? It’s possible. Do you prefer to focus on quickly destroying enemies and leave the defensive game to play? It’s your choice. Prefer a reasonable balance?Go for it.The actors and their abilities are all strong enough to make any approach work, leaving you free to continue. r to protect Princess Lola as you see fit.
This time around, everyone’s favorite royal has given herself a castle on crawlers, and she wants to do nothing more than ram it into the enemy fortress waiting at the other end of a length of track. It’s a brilliantly ridiculous setup, and a Cart of Darkness is happy to extract every last drop of tactical (and gag) gameplay. Some stages are more like puzzles than battlegrounds with track-changing switches, portal doors, one-way arrows, colored coded keys and more, although the opening tutorial missions and the cast’s pre-stage banter whenever something new or particularly tricky pops up both help you get to grips with the basics and then stay on top of things as the levels get more complex. You soon find yourself fortifying barricades and switching between characters without any problems, simply because the game has done such a great job of making it easy for you.
Each mission is divided into four small stages, and after each you have the opportunity to use the gold you earn from defeating minotaurs and ghosts to improve your whole team in several key areas. Naturally, the more money you have, the more powerful you and your defenses can be. The clever twist is that these upgrades only apply to this series of missions: every new challenge is a fresh start, and that means no matter what you choose to spend your money on, you never have to worry. to fall behind because you have invested too much. money in the “wrong” thing, there are ten missions.
The base game’s soundtrack is usable, but we felt like we were constantly waiting for Yuzi Koshiro’s magic to kick in rather than tapping our feet on it. Perhaps the real bangers await in the game’s four $3 DLC packs, which feature music in a variety of sound chip formats recorded on genuine hardware, including ‘Mega Blastin’ Trax’, ‘Pocket Power Trax ‘, ‘Japanicom Trax’ and ‘Super Wavetable’ Versions. DLC packs also feature additional scenarios and character skills not present in the base game we reviewed.
Gotta Protectors: Cart of Darkness always likes to throw something new at you, a few little tweaks to the usual rules that somehow make yet another stage involving a cheering princess and a brand-new moving reservoir castle. Mobile monster spawners and multiple castles keep you on your toes, and huge bosses capable of filling an already busy screen always seem to appear at the worst possible time and demand your full attention.
The good news is that by the time these bosses are introduced, you’ve learned to move beyond the success and hope tactics of your early hours and have begun to tap into the game’s significant strategic depths; for example, noticing that while hitting the castle and barriers repairs them, the archer’s arrows are actually a long-range repair service. Sometimes it’s beneficial to get the princess out of the castle to give you time to rearrange barriers or collect keys before triggering the next monster-point, and since the marking system always brings the replacement character next to Lola, it can be used as a cheeky chain serve if finding that last key left you a little too far from His Righteous Highness. It seems like there are a million new ways to use your old skills, and Cart of Darkness can’t wait to help you see them all.
Ancient’s mix of all-out action, deep strategy, and irreverent humor is more enjoyable than ever here, and smashing a massive tank-castle into fiendish stuff just keeps on being fun. Gotta Protectors: Cart of Darkness plays its story for laughs, but the game itself is an expertly crafted challenge with plenty to do and plenty more to come back to.