Laser Disco Defenders is a rogue-like bullet-hell shooter from indie dev 'Out of Bounds'. So, if you've played titles such as Rogue Legacy, Binding of Isaac or Enter the Gungeon; then you have a general idea of the structure of this particular title.The basic premise is that you must survive through procedural levels, defeat enemies, upgrade your character and eventually reach the end. The hook here is that you will have to die in order to progress. Learning mechanics, gaining knowledge of enemy behaviour and levelling up your stats is mandatory to move through the campaign.
You can purchase Laser Disco Defenders on the Playstation Store for £7.99/$9.99
Note: Also includes PSVITA cross buy (thanks !)
So, let's be clear: nobody plays rogue-likes for their memorable and rewarding story. This title is no exception.The plot is the traditional bad guy trying to take over the universe; but this time through music. The entire galaxy seems to fall in line with 70's inspired dance tracks and refuses to explore other genres. To prevent souring the music tastes of every living thing in existence, four plucky heroes must fight their way through caves (?) in order to reach Monotone's ship and ask him politely to stop. The lack of importance the story possesses seems to be known by the game itself. As when cutscenes are unlocked at each major new environment; they are pushed back to the 'Extras' menu. These four short story sections are not that impressive, consisting of static images with overlapping text and dialogue that is best described as someone talking backwards whilst inhaling from a helium balloon. The dialogue is incredibly predictable and has a sprinkling of 70's slang, such as 'groove space' and 'jamming'. The words seem more of the focus than the content of the narrative itself. Suffice to say; it's clear the reason these story pieces are buried along with the 'Options' menu and not presented directly to the player during the campaign.
The priority of any great twin stick bullet-hell driven game is its gameplay. It needs to be tight, responsive, varied and most of all – fun. Laser Disco Defenders accomplishes most of the time and settles to be more of a 'baby's first' roguelike. You first pick one of the four characters (Mr Baker, Tommy, Donna & Liz) and choose your equipment. Disappointingly each character only offers stat differences of health and speed, with no unique passive or active abilities.This results in the player choosing which defender feels the best and never deviating from them. I found myself always playing as Mr.Baker as he has the most health.
The moment to moment gameplay is solid if a bit floaty. Each level consists of rooms and connecting tunnels increasing with both environmental and enemy threat. You are equipped with lasers that fire from your fingertips, a jetpack and a couple of lootable consumable items.Movement is more akin to 'Flappy Bird' than other traditional titles in its genre, you must have constant control over your height in the level. Requiring you to move in all axis, holding up on the analogue stick all of the time. Dropping to the floor will more than likely result in premature death due to your limited speed. The gunplay fares far better. The single unique mechanic of this game are the lasers. Both your lasers and the enemies' will remain in the area until you exit. This creates a simple and spontaneous risk/reward system that is actually awesome.Firing all your bullets (which are infinite) will increase the chance of wiping out all of your threats, but also significantly ramp up the challenge as you try to dodge and avoid death by your own bullets. Ideally, you need to go in slowly and aim carefully, using as little ammunition as possible to ricochet through multiple foes. Alternatively, you can bait your opponents into firing and wait as they eliminate each other. Combine this with more advanced enemies that start to reflect your fire or raise shields, and you have a frantic and challenging experience. This small compelling mechanic induces its own micro strategy within a fairly by-the-numbers game. Over each run you will face dozens of wall turrets, proximity mines, charging knights and rotating drones. They are all robotic and mindless, offering no purpose other than preventing you from leaving. It would have been nice to see musical taunts or unique animation to help identify each enemy during the often hectic encounters.
Items are also a large cog in the rogue-like wheel. But Laser Disco Defenders favours skill and simplicity over chance and character builds.It surprised me how little items, both passive and consumable, exist to compliment your laser fire. The persistent items are unlocked when levelling up, which is accomplished by completing multi-criteria challenges. For example: destroying 8 knights or gaining a certain amount of points. It is nice to have other multiple goals other than just surviving, but the lack of variety in these challenges are noticeable quite quickly, as are the abilities themselves.They range from movement changes to alternative laser fire but it lacks a clear sense of improvement as you progress. There are also items that drop from enemies, which are consumable and will aid you with active abilities such as a black hole or slow motion during each life. It's clear that it prioritises player skill over the luck with item drops.Honestly, for many veterans of the genre, this might be a refreshing change. Allowing skilled and experienced players their well-earned progression, rather than down to the chance of powerful items.
The 70's aesthetic here works well, creating a colourful vibe of joy and dance with its characters and world.The animations here are great, but I would've like to see more of them and individual ones for each character. The artwork of both the menu backgrounds and cutscenes are fantastic. Specifically the spaceship and suit designs that have an old school cartoon design that helps it pop, despite being 2d. The levels, unfortunately, lack any personality or flair that the game desperately aspires to convey elsewhere. They are divided into 4 styles but ultimately have very small colour differences for both enemies and environments.Their purpose feels just to create space to play, rather than a compelling location to explore.Overall the art is great if somewhat hindered but the lack of animations and dull level designs.
The sound design is limited but the soundtrack stands out as utterly fantastic. The main themes (played in menus) are catchy, joyful pieces of groovy greatness. I would find myself just sat in the main menu listening to it over and over – bringing back feelings of Mega Man'' incredible music themes. Again, the game shoots itself in its own foot when it refuses to play these during gameplay – which sucks. Elsewhere sound is generally absent. Enemies don't make any noise, nor is there ambient sound – only the zip of lasers as they fire from wall to wall – which is serviceable.
Laser Disco Defenders is no doubt fun. The gimmick of constant laser chaos and its skill-based focus will be fresh to many players jumping into this genre, or to those tired of the pain caused by RNG based titles.However, the truth here is that far better titles exist and have greater variety and depth within their levels and upgrades, which are the essence of any game built for replayability.
|+ Groovy soundtrack||– Lack of items|
|+ Laser ricocheting||– Underdeveloped characters|
|+ Simplicity over chance||– Dull repetitive levels|