When Aliens Attack
The setting is Earth. Aliens have crash landed on the planet and are out to harvest the world’s resources. It’s up to Earth’s strongest militaries to thwart the aliens’ attempts at world domination. You’ve probably heard this type of story before, but X-Morph: Defense has a twist: YOU are the alien, and your mission is to fend off the humans and take over the world!
Here’s my Video Review for your viewing pleasure!
It’s surprising how one role reversal turns everything around. As the alien force, it’s exciting to see your expanding dominion over Earth and hear the (fully voice-acted) humans tremble at your might. X-Morph: Defense is a blend of two genres: tower defense and shoot ‘em up. In every map, waves of tanks, planes, and other threats approach your harvester core. Your objective is to protect your core and wipe out all opposing forces. There are two phases to each wave. In the first phase, you build towers that automatically fire shots at incoming foes. By consuming additional resources, you can upgrade towers with specialized weapons, such as anti-air missiles, lasers, or flamethrowers. You can set them up wherever you want, but scant resources limit the number of towers. I appreciated the unlimited time for deliberate planning, as I needed it to consider every option.
One unexpectedly engaging strategy was walling off enemy paths. By placing two towers near each other, you can create a laser fence. Since enemy pathways are always clearly displayed, it’s easy to determine the best routes to close, and the screen conveniently shows you how the paths shift. Of course, you can’t completely prevent enemies from approaching your core, but the game awkwardly handles the situation by immediately removing your fence if it blocks off the only remaining path. I understand that walling off every route would cheapen gameplay, but there’s no logical in-game reason as to why an alien bent on destruction like me wouldn’t want to be unstoppable.
As far as the second phase goes, other tower defense games would normally involve you watching your towers pick off enemy waves. In X-Morph: Defense, you don’t have the luxury of waiting around and are instead a part of the action. In your spaceship, you fly across the field and manually fire your own shots to cover areas in need of extra protection. The game transforms into a hardcore twin-stick shooter, with all the thrills of maneuvering between bullet streams.
Having an active role in the tower defense is empowering. And as you destroy enemies, you gain more resources. Mid-battle, you can actually make your ship invisible (dubbed Ghost Mode) and build new towers as needed. In addition, you can move towers around at no cost, which creates hectic tension in the midst of action. My favorite segments were when the giant mech bosses appeared, which required more focused strategies and hardcore gunning. Altogether, the blended gameplay produces chaotic, exhilarating bouts that force players to balance shooting and building. Everything happens at a remarkably fast pace with no performance issues or slowdown.
It’s not too hard to grasp the gameplay, but the enemy barrages become overwhelming if you’re not well-versed in either genre. There are different difficulty levels to assist or challenge players. I found the Normal difficulty quite tough already, especially later in the game when increasingly frustrating enemy waves approach from all sides. Easy mode makes it a little too forgiving, completely healing your base core between each wave.
Gradual upgrades offer the extra firepower necessary to get through the game unscathed. You earn points through battle to unlock perks such as new spaceship weapons, types of towers, or core power-ups. There are about 10-12 upgrades per category – a fair amount to vary gameplay – and you can transfer your point allocation between any upgrades. Though once you find a strategy that works (as I did with the incredibly strong lasers), you could keep that loadout the entire campaign.
Despite X-Morph: Defense’s clever concept, its premise wears thin over time. There are 14 maps, although only nine of them are required to finish the story. Each stage, lasting at least half an hour each, has about five to seven waves. By around the fifth stage, I felt like I had seen everything. The maps, based on real world locations, don’t stand out from each other and have few defining landmarks. The mazelike, multi-path configurations and layouts are well-designed from a real-time strategy perspective, but the maps are otherwise generic, merely differing in enemy pathways and destructible buildings.
An included Survival mode helps increase replayability and variability. With every wave, you are given random upgrades to choose from. Your mission is to last as long as possible against endless enemies that follow randomly generated pathways. As with the campaign, Survival is fun, but unless you’re a hardcore tower defense player seeking high scores, it gets repetitive.
There are three DLC modes, but unfortunately, they aren’t included for free. One feature strangely absent in the Nintendo Switch version is co-op mode, which is available in other editions. Otherwise, the Switch version has no real advantage besides the obvious portability. Touch screen support would have been accommodating for battle, since it gets frantic fiddling with the buttons to build towers.
X-Morph: Defense effectively mixes strategic tower defense gameplay with adrenaline-pumping twin-stick shooting. The detailed presentation and voice-acting help sell this epic campaign. And the fact that you get to be the invading alien is a nice change of pace. It’s not for everyone, and unless you love chasing high scores, there’s not much to do after the credits roll. If you’re a fan of either genre or are interested in experiencing a solid combination of the two gameplay styles, then X-Morph: Defense is an engaging way to take over the world.
Note: A review copy was used for this article.