[Review] Planetary Defense Force – Nintendo Switch

Written by Richard Strachan
  • Developer: Blue Sunset Games
  • Publisher: Blue Sunset Games
  • Release date: 7/1/2020
  • Price: £3.99 / $4.99
  • Review code provided by Blue Sunset Games

Intro

Planetary Defense Force is an intriguing combination of twin-stick shooter and tower defense, played on the surface of a sphere much like the PS3 and Vita Super Stardust games. When I read about the game initially I was pretty excited. I love twin-stick shooters and enjoy the intense resource management of tower defense. A combination of the two seemed ideal!

Robo-strop

You control a giant robot initially floating along a force field on the outside of a planet. The force field represents the combat area, but you can travel down to the surface of the planet to build various defensive structures, such as solar panels to gather energy, and different facilities to improve your abilities and weapons.

The basic flow of the game involves an very brief initial build phase where you hastily set up some solar panels to begin gathering energy before travelling up to the surface of the force field to set up some towers to defend against several incoming waves of enemies.

Each level consists of 12-15 waves which must be cleared before you can progress to the next. The first level or two can be bested quite easily, with some coins given at the end of each to be spent on persistent upgrades to your character, structures, towers and to the strength of the planet itself. The levels do very little to differentiate between levels, other than some different enemy types making an appearance.

Planetary Defense Farce

After passing the initial three or four levels, the difficulty takes a ridiculous spike skyward and the game’s flaws become truly apparent. There are some severe balancing issues at play with the game, which render it almost unplayable. There is basically no time between waves to recover, gather resources and build new structures, which means that each round is a choice between building or defending. The rate at which enemies spawn, means that they are more than likely to overwhelm your defences way before you get anywhere near a decent turret network developed.

Changing your approach to spend the time shooting enemies proves ineffective, as you’ve no way of covering the whole surface of the planet. In addition, the basic weapon is so weak that all but the simplest enemies take multiple shots to down.

This wouldn’t be a major issue if the upgrade system was properly balanced. At the beginning of the game, the maximum energy your character can hold at any one time is 1500. This ruins the whole economy, as the cheapest weapon you can upgrade to costs 2200 (and requires you to build the requisite facility first). The game does offer persistent upgrades to your max energy, but the catch is that to get that max energy pool increased, to the point you could afford the shotgun, costs 4000 gold. You earn gold even on every failed run (which will be pretty much every run beyond level three or four), but you are talking around 100 gold per run. It’s conceivably possible to grind out the gold to upgrade your max energy reserves, however the next balancing issue then rears its ugly head.

The rate at which you generate energy is low to start with, this means that turrets (which are absolutely essential to your survival) are hard to come by. As soon as you generate enough energy you’ll be spending it on a turret. The only way you could reasonably expect to be buying these weapons would be once the planet has enough turrets to sustain some kind of automated defense. The reality is that beyond a certain point, getting such a setup in place is impossible. Even if you were to get to that point, generating 2200 energy takes so long that the waves would all have been completed or you would be dead.

Nuke It From Orbit

Playing the game is, in all honesty, an exercise in frustration. Most of the mechanics come at a ridiculous price and the difficulty is scaled so badly that most attempts at a mission end in failure within about 30 seconds.

The game has 5 planets consisting of six levels each and an endless mode. The reality is that most players will never see beyond the first planet. Endless mode becomes a pointless exercise as each run is likely to end in disaster before you get anywhere near establishing a viable Defense Force.

On top of the balancing issues, there are also some nasty glitches that crop up frequently. During every fifth run or so I would find that the shoot button would stop responding halfway through a round as would the button to build structures, meaning I was left to accept my fate and hope that the existing towers were sufficient to survive the onslaught (spoiler: they never were). I also found that when loading the skill tree the game would still retain the options from the previous layer of the menu. With both layers overlaid on top of each other, the game would then get confused as to what option I was selecting. There was many an occasion when I shouted to myself “Off!” before throwing the Switch into a corner.

A twin-stick shooter can also live or die based on its mechanics. The shooting in the game is weak and lacks any real sense of feedback. Whether this would improve with the unlockable weapons remains unknown, given the ridiculous costs. The developers also chose to place shooting on a trigger, rather than having shooting handled automatically when aiming with the right stick. I don’t think this setup works well and would have preferred the simpler approach as used in most twin-stick shooters.

Final Thoughts

Planetary Defense Force, as you may have already gathered, is a huge disappointment. The overall concept is interesting, but the execution is baffling. The design decisions in terms of the in-game economy make it seem like the focus is on encouraging microtransactions to unlock the persistent upgrades, but no such system exists.

I feel like some balancing tweaks, in terms of the costs of items and the rate at which you generate energy, would have a huge effect on the playability of the game. Sometimes the challenges a developer faces in addressing the issues with a game are technical and perhaps the issue of the Switch’s modest power, but in this case some simple changes to the costing of items could have a real positive effect and could really show off the game’s potential.

I’m hopeful we will see a patch for the game down the line that might make things a bit better balanced, but as things stand it really is difficult to recommend Planetary Defense Force when it is lined up against the wealth of good shooters on the Switch.

Pros

  • An interesting blend of genres

Cons

  • Poor balancing
  • Immense difficulty curve
  • Game breaking glitches

Verdict
Planetary Defense Force is awkwardly balanced and proves infuriatingly difficult. Several strange design choices lead to the game being borderline unplayable. The real frustration stems from the fact that the main issues are the result of design choices rather than technical issues.
2/5

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