Laser Disco Defenders is a modern take on a classic idea with a retro yet futuristic style. Confused? You are now where I was for the first hour of playing this game.
Laser Disco Defenders has 4 playable characters each with a unique colour and style and a different level of health and speed. The faster a character, the less health they have with the first character, Mr Baker, having 4 health points and 1 speed and the last character Liz having 1 health and 4 for speed. The story mode starts with a short but colourful cut scene on which our 4 protagonists discuss in sim-speak a big bad guy threatening the musical taste of the galaxy but that’s pretty much it. There are 3 more cut scenes that explain the story and are unlocked when (and if!) you get through to each of the games four stages. The story is a nice addition but is pretty much unnecessary as the game is more aimed at high score beating than a deep story.
Laser Disco Defenders is a twin stick shooter that moves in a unique direction to other titles in that every bullet fired by either the player or enemies does not disappear, it continues to bounce around the stage. Player and enemies can both be damaged by the projectiles so it means what starts as a standard shooter, quickly transforms into a self-inflicted bullet hell where quick reactions are the key to staying alive. Apart from a brief tutorial about how the controls work, nothing else is given about how the game is supposed to be played, players can opt for a more precise style, firing only when necessary or go all out and fire hundreds of bullets and then spend the rest of the level dodging projectiles. This is made challenging as the player must constantly manoeuvre the left stick to keep the character afloat. This means that if you let go of the stick, your player will plummet. There is no damage for falling or touching the sides but this does mean a sneeze or an itchy nose can spell doom!
The aim of the game is to clear each level of enemies and then reach the exit. This sounds simple but levels get more complicated the further you go in and as the projectiles continue off screen, this can mean going back can be hugely dangerous, especially if a lot of bullets were fired when you first entered the area. As well as a plethora of enemies, the levels themselves have hazards from jagged crystals to toxic bubbles which need avoiding so every stage is hectic.
As for core gameplay, Laser Disco Defenders is hard, very hard. It harks back to the days of arcade and NES titles with permadeath after all of the player’s lives are depleted. This adds to the challenge and really creates a game that had me saying “just one more go” over and over again. The problem created with this means that the first stage, crystal caves, becomes very very familiar with player having to start at the beginning each time they die. The randomly generated levels help break up the monotony of seeing the same stage over and over but it still starts to grate after a while. There are also 4 powerups that can be collected to help the player out and these are activated using the triangle, square, x and circle. The first power-up allows players to slow time while aiming, the second will let the player fire as many bullets as they want which will disappear while the power-up is active, the next creates a vortex that sucks up all lasers in the area and the last on creates a baton out of a laser.
When the game is started the player is given 3 missions to complete. There is no stage requirement to these mission and I actually achieved a lot of them before reaching the final stage which is handy as the final stage is not easy to get to! The missions range from complete a set number of levels, hit a certain multiplier, kill x amount of a type of enemy etc and these missions go towards gaining new outfits. Outfits are not just aesthetic they change the way the characters are played. Accessories give the player a unique bonus such as a free hit or a target to aim with. Clothing changes the type of bullets fired from small rapid lasers to spread shots and shoes change the player’s movement. This adds another element to the gameplay and helps give variety to the characters as other than their speed/health, they are all the same.
The game style is very pretty, HD visuals pop with colour and each character has their own charm. The style is based on cheesy sci-fi movies and 70s fashion and it does it very well, from bucket seats to flares, the detail is gorgeous. The game runs across 4 stages that are all coloured differently with different backgrounds and hazards which help mix things up. The sound effects are well implemented with the traditional “pew pew” of the lasers is oddly satisfying. The music it’s with the style of the game with a 70s feel to it but each stage has the same music on a loop which for me personally, became jarring after a while. It would have perhaps been better to have 3 or 4 tracks for each stage and have them alternate, especially considering the difficulty of the game means replaying the first 2 stages repeatedly.
Laser Disco Defenders is a lot of fun to play with a simple style that goes back to the days of tough arcade style gameplay although the difficulty will not appeal to everyone. The game starts a little confusing but after a few runs it starts to make sense and then the fun begins. The game really kept me coming back for more and never have I said, “this is my last go” and yet continued so many times. I have also always felt myself a patient gamer who doesn’t let in game annoyances affect me, although I have never been so close to throwing my pad with frustration as I was with Laser Disco Defenders. I’m still unsure whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, either way I was hooked. The game is not without some annoyances, the camera being one of them. Every time an enemy is destroyed, the camera shakes slightly which I found very jarring at first. I thought I had gotten used to it but after stopping playing for a few hours and going back, I felt I had to get used to it all over again. The camera also shakes when the player takes a hit which for me often created a chain reaction that meant I got hit many times in quick succession usually resulting in game over.
Aside from the difficulty curve and shaky camera, Laser Disco Defenders is a solid title with gorgeous visuals and addictive gameplay which will appeal to those who want to revisit the glory days of retro shooters.