Defenders of Ekron / Defenders of Ekron: Definitive Edition

A game by In Vitro Games for PC, PS4, and Xbox One, originally released in 2017, with the Definitive Edition released in 2018.
Defenders of Ekron mixes the shmup and action-adventure genres in a game that shifts between shooting, exploration within confined facilities, light puzzle solving, and high speed pursuit. You pilot a flying mech called an Anakim, which is part of a fleet of mechs that defend the Technocratic Republic of Ekron. While most Anakim possess Isvar√°, the ability to absorb energy and convert it into overpowered attacks, your mech does not seem to have this ability. This puts you at a disadvantage when facing off against other Anakim pilots until you can hone your other skills.

The game was originally released as Defenders of Ekron, and was followed a year later by Defenders of Ekron: Definitive Edition. The Definitive Edition adds new difficulty levels, a boss rush mode against the game’s 13 bosses, and some tweaks to the gameplay and balance. In addition, this edition of the game includes Invaders of Ekron, a standalone vertical shmup done up in an 8-bit style, offering a more straightforward vertical shooting experience without the action-adventure elements or advanced techniques of the main game.

The game offers a robust simulation mode featuring dozens of short challenges, each focusing on a different aspect of gameplay, from the player’s primary and secondary weapons, to shield usage, to more advanced special moves. This mode serves multiple purposes: it acts as an entry-level tutorial for each of your mech’s functions, it demonstrates advanced techniques for each of these functions, and it awards points based on performance which may then be spent on mech upgrades.

The simulation mode is practically a game unto itself (plenty of commercial releases offer less). The player can earn up to 100 points per challenge, with 100 points being the cost of the lowest-level mech upgrades. However, the player only earns 10 points for completing the challenge; he must complete secondary objectives in order to achieve all 100 points. Secondary objectives often involve completing a challenge under a certain par time or without taking damage, but there are more specific objectives as well, such as target shooting challenges that require the player to kill a certain number of enemies with a limited number of bullets.

Each simulation has three secondary objectives, with points gained by completing each of them, and a gold star awarded for completing them all in a single run. Challenge levels are arranged on a hexagonal grid, and the player may only unlock tougher challenges by completing those adjacent. A large number of challenges are open at the start of the game, with more becoming available as the player unlocks new abilities for his mech. Upgrade points may be spent on increasing the mech’s damage output, life bar, and the strength of special abilities.

The game begins with a straightforward vertical shooting sequence, which is later revealed to have been a simulation. The player then enters an exam area where each of his mech’s abilities are temporarily disabled during a lengthy sequence of tutorials. The player is able to move and aim independently, fire a steady stream of projectiles by holding the ATTACK button, and manually aim explosive projectiles that are capable of locking on to four targets at once (or more once upgraded).

There is some strategy to using explosive projectiles, as locking on causes the mech to drop a hovering projectile which then speeds toward the target when the player lets off the button. With the proper timing, players can use these explosives attack shielded enemies from behind or even destroy multiple targets simultaneously. The player also has a shield that protects him from most kinds of damage.

Each of the mech’s primary and secondary weapons drains an energy meter when used, and using the shield drains the meter quickly whenever projectiles are being absorbed, and even faster when blasted by continuous fire from a laser. Once the meter is drained, the player must wait a few seconds for it to recharge, and this meter may be extended by spending upgrade points earned in the simulations.

The game offers a complex narrative with between-level cutscenes as you move between each part of your home base, and there are lots of text popups within the levels to relay additional story elements. The narrative isn’t terribly compelling, but its shortcomings are offset by the a high level of mission variety that keeps the game interesting from one level to the next.

While the core gameplay is that of a scrolling shooter, the player will find himself experiencing multiple gameplay types, often altering course within a single level. For instance, the player may travel through a vertically scrolling sequence, stop to take on enemies in an arena-style combat area, and then enter an area where he is free to explore in any direction. The player moves through cave systems, speeds across barren landscapes, and even pilots his ship through building interiors, riding elevators to move between floors and solving puzzles to open the path forward.

The game frequently shifts between straightforward action and more exploration- or puzzle-based areas. Many areas feature multiple objectives and allow the player to tackle them order, offering an experience more in line with action-adventure titles as the player moves around an open environment and checks the map for possible target locations.

The mech has four modes, each of which is unlocked early in the game. The basic mode is built around combat, allowing the player to rotate the mech, aim independently of movement, and fire its weapons. The mech also has a scanning mode that allows the player to move a reticule and target objects in the environment to gain additional information or occasionally unlock lore about the world.

There is a map mode which shows all of the areas the player has explored and highlights important objectives, and there is also a minimap. Finally, there is a speed-based mode where the player’s main weapons are disabled (he can still drop mines). In this mode, the player uses thrusters to move quickly through the environment and steer to the left or right, and there are a few occasions where the player must pursue an enemy mech.

There are eight themed areas in the game, and once the player completes the first three, he is free to take on the next four in any order. The opening levels establish the presence of four enemy mech pilots who wreak havoc on the player’s squad mates, so in the next four levels, the player is free to take them on as he likes.

Each of these mechs possesses a powerful special attack, and destroying them allows the player to absorb and make use of these abilities, Mega Man-style. These abilities include increased firepower, melee attacks, magnetism, and a flamethrower, all of which are required to complete the final area. As each upgrade is earned, new simulation challenges open for the player to practice and earn points to upgrade them further.

The game offers highly detailed environments within each of its themed regions, and similarly detailed mech designs. The player returns to headquarters between missions and is able to move through each of the major areas via the menu, offering a sense of place as the player visits the command room, a hangar with mechs undergoing service, the simulation room, and the player character’s bedroom where the player may save his game or listen to tracks from the game’s soundtrack. Between missions, the player may engage NPC’s in conversation, each of whom as a full-screen character portrait.

Defenders of Ekron was developed by In Vitro Games, based in Santiago, Chile. Music for the game was composed by the Chilean band Action Replay.