Combining genres is nothing new in modern day gaming, as every game seems to blend multiple styles. First person platformers, shooter puzzlers, hell there’s even a twin-stick match 3 combo on the market. Which brings me to X-morph Defense, a game that combines a genre I love (twin stick shooters) with one I don’t (tower defense). I enjoy the planning ahead aspect of defense games, but I always found myself out of the action once things got going. X-morph Defense solves this problem with their hybrid gameplay that is engaging, dynamic and most importantly, fair. It’s enjoyable in all phases: preparation, reevaluation, victory and defeat. It’s the type of game I think about when I’m not playing, and one that everybody should consider adding to their library.
The story in X-morph Defense is so simple, yet I’ve never seen a game with a similar narrative. Aliens have invaded Earth, ok we’ve seen it a thousand times. They want to colonize our planet with their technology and steal our resources, ok seen that too. The twist is that we are not playing as the humans, we play as the aliens! We must protect our harvester core (base) from the humans, who attack from the air and land with a variety of military units. As the humans are defeated, more cores land in different parts of the world and the process begins anew. The campaign spans 14 levels from Mexico to Russia to even Australia; each location with its own distinct look and layout. Occasionally at the end of the last wave there will be a boss battle. These ranged from spider-esque tanks to gigantic flying airships, but were always enjoyable.
Before every mission, your harvester core lands on the map and the human general will dish out attack orders. The enemy types vary from tanks, helicopters, infantry and jets to name a few. The attacks come in the form of waves, with unlimited preparation time before (nearly) all of them. Before an enemy even begins their assault, you get to view their attack route via markers on the screen. Humans will take the shortest and most direct path to the core, but the aliens have an advantage of their own. The X-morph (as the humans have named them) can lay out towers that attack the humans along their route. Two towers that are reasonably close together can be tethered with a fence that blocks their path. If you successfully tether a road along the human route, they will become rerouted. The idea is to combine routes if possible and make the path to the harvester core as long as possible. The longer the route, the more time your towers and character have to dispose of enemies.
That is the tower defense portion of the game; choosing the right location for your towers, the types of towers (more on that soon) and watching your master plan unfold. The twin-stick gameplay comes in the form of the X-morph flying vehicle you command. Things start off simple enough with machine guns that can hit air or land vehicles. As you progress through each level you earn ability points that unlock new upgrades for your ship or towers. Bombs, missiles and EMP blasts are at your fingertips, although powerful weapons have a short cooldown to avoid spamming. Occasionally you must spend your ability points to unlock a required upgrade like anti-air turrets, but many other choices are left to the player. Do I want extra damage resistance to my core or a way for it to protect itself when enemies are attacking it? Why can’t you have both? You can! But there will be a sacrifice in another area. Depending on your playstyle you might play X-morph Defense completely different than I did.
Your alien ship will spend most of its time flying around the map and intercepting human enemies. Thanks to audible orders from the human and X-morph commanders and a helpful mini-map, it’s easy to know where you should be concentrating your attention. At any time you can switch to ghost mode, which allows you to move towers, break them down or build completely new ones. This can be tricky because the action doesn’t stop if doing this during a wave; laying down towers while your base is under attack is both frantic and exhilarating. I love that the player isn’t penalized for moving towers or breaking them down; all your resources are given back to you. There were many times where I passed a few waves but had to completely start from scratch with my tower placement. Before every mission you can respec your upgrades and choose different ones if you so desire. X-morph Defense encourages you to take your time and scrap your plans without penalty.
Your basic tower only costs one block of resources to build, but it can prove useless against heavily armored or aerial vehicles. There are a variety of ways to upgrade a standard turret to fit your needs, but it will cost additional resources. Anti-air turrets can be upgraded again with missiles or laser beams, increasing their effectiveness. Fire turrets work great against infantry and mortar turrets can break through armored vehicles. There are also laser turrets, but I opted not to have them in my arsenal. Destroyed vehicles turn into scrap, which your ship can pick up almost like a vacuum. Scrap can only be picked up in ghost mode, so you’ll have to forego attacks if you’re trying to build your resource meter. In case you couldn’t tell, there is a lot going on during a typical wave. You can also choose to upgrade your ship, increasing its speed or scrapping effectiveness. Hard decisions had to be made, as I was not able to have all the upgrades at once during most of the campaign.
All that being said, I haven’t even touched upon the environments of X-morph Defense. Pretty much everything you see on the map can be destroyed, from the smallest cars to the tallest buildings. You can even strategically topple buildings to land on enemies and block roads. I managed to land the killing blow on a boss by collapsing a skyscraper on it, and the feeling was incredible. Exor Studios created their own engine that is a pleasure to just fly around and destroy before a wave even begins. It all looks so pretty and hardly ever stumbles or stutters. While it may looks simple in screenshots, there is genuine beauty when a forest burns or wood fragments shatter round a bomb epicenter.
There are three difficulties: easy, normal and hard…and you can change them at any time during the story mode. I made some decent progress on normal before switching to easy, and even then it was no cakewalk. At the end of every level you are graded based on core damage, scrap picked up, etc. If you do well enough you can earn medals and post your score on the leaderboards. X-morph Defense even has its own separate local co-op story mode, should you have a couch co-pilot available. While I unfortunately couldn’t try this mode, I learned that there are more enemies and the resources are divided among the two players.
So what don’t I like about X-morph Defense? Not much. The biggest gripe I have is the loading times, as they are pretty long and if you have to retry the level, be prepared to wait. Some things are worth the wait, though, and X-morph Defense is one of them. There are also some pretty harsh vibrations when your core is eventually destroyed, but realistically these are small complaints. I did run into the occasional never-ending loading screen which required me quitting out and restarting the game. Hopefully a performance patch addresses all these in the future.
X-morph Defense is the total package, one I had no clue I wanted but now wonder how I ever lived without. The combination of twin stick shooting with tower defense is a match made in heaven. The maze gameplay and the rerouting of enemy paths makes for a different experience in every level. There was genuine satisfaction and pleasure that came with destroying a gigantic boss or placing turrets in the perfect order. X-morph Defense is not an easy game, even on the lowest difficulty. Fortune will favor the patient and thoughtful gamer who pays attention to details and instructions. You must make quick decisions and choose what upgrades fit your needs. I personally love the challenge, the destruction and the overall feeling of a fresh gameplay experience. The $19.99 USD price tag is a steal with the amount of content and replay-ability to be had. Anyone who is a fan of tower defense, twin-stick shooters or unique, challenging games owes it to themselves to try X-morph Defense. Highly recommended.