Gotta Protectors: Cart of Darkness – Let’s protect, guys!

Retro throwback is a popular aesthetic these days. Turns out the detailed 2D pixel art, chiptune jammin’ soundtracks, and gameplay and playability are timeless. One under-the-radar series that has rocked the retro aesthetic is Gotta Protectors, a multiplayer aerial action/tower defense/real-time strategy fusion that has won over avid fans. Gotta Protectors: Cart of Darkness is the latest entry in the series, and it’s a frenetically fun and strategic adventure alone or with up to three companions.

The world of Gotta Protectors is one of those fantastic video game universes where hordes of monsters are constantly attacking, putting the kingdom in danger. Luckily, the kingdom has Princess Lola and her magic banner that can heal and protect all of her subjects…except herself. It’s a pretty fatal flaw, but luckily she has an army of guardians: the Gotta Protectors, a ragtag gang of warriors and crackpots whose goal is to protect Lola from harm (and quench her thirst for monster blood). vicarious). And Lola must be protected from all harm, because she has another power: a cry of frustration that can destroy everything.

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From the outset, it is clear that Gotta Protectors does not take itself very seriously. Your Protectors gang consists of a variety of fantasy classes, each with something a little different about them. This includes an obnoxiously smug archer, an old paladin trying to relive his glory days riding a toy horse, a ninja whose quest for unencumbered speed left him virtually naked, a mystic whose antisocial nature leaves you wondering about which side she really is, and an amazon who is what kids nowadays call “thicc”, among other things. Along with their humor, they’re all aware they’re in a video game, breaking the fourth wall and deliberately referencing pop culture and 90s gaming. Princess Lola, despite being so helpless that ‘she can’t even move on her own, gives them somewhat devious encouragement while happily reveling in their monster slaying. The quirky, humorous atmosphere and charming visual Easter eggs scattered throughout (try pressing X on the pause screen) are a delight and help make Cart of Darkness stand out among similar retro-styled games.

That’s not to say the gameplay isn’t up to snuff, as Gotta Protectors is delightfully frenetic. Princess Lola commands a rolling fortress city that travels along train tracks to crash into and destroy enemy fortresses…provided she sits in the driver’s seat. As Lola waits or rolls along the rails of her battle fortress, hordes of enemies will appear and attempt to invade the castle and harm her. This is where you (and the other players) come in – you’ll need to protect Lola and the castle until the enemy base is destroyed, because if she takes too much damage she’ll scream everything into oblivion.

Progression in Cart of Darkness is mission-based, with each mission having four maps. After building a team of three protectors and setting up their skills, you’ll be sent out into the battlefield to guard Princess Lola, scour the maps to set up barriers and auto-fire turrets, take down monster-spawning statues, and make sure you, Lola, her castle, and the barricades are all in good shape. It may sound hectic – and it is! Swarms of enemies will spawn at times, and you’ll have to adjust your tactics on the fly to deal with the variety of foes: goblin grunts, burly damage-sponging minotaurs, evasive flying bats and succubus gangs, missing ghosts , bomb-throwing werebears, fast lizardmen, poisonous zombies and giant hard-shelled insects. Every once in a while there’s a huge enemy boss that will also require wits and strength to defeat, challenging you to employ unorthodox strategies to keep their overwhelming force at bay.

Gotta Protectors: Cart of Darkness is a frenetically fun and strategic adventure alone or with up to three companions

Each of your three protectors has up to three special abilities you assign, and you can swap out your defender at any time. Their abilities vary by class and have many different effects: building and repairing defensive barriers, healing skills to help you and Lola, offensive attacks with weapons and magic, summoned monsters to summon to areas of the map, skills for moving and rearranging objects, even decoys. and traps. Every skill is useful in one way or another, and learning how to best use them – as well as determining an ideal skill mix within your team – is challenging and enjoyable. And since skills cost money and/or MP, you’ll need to be careful to use them as efficiently as possible.

With waves of monsters constantly pouring in, even weak enemies can begin to overwhelm Lola quickly, so clever use of skills and building barriers while prioritizing which enemy groups to take down are crucial. After each map, you will be able to purchase temporary upgrades for that mission. However, these upgrades come back after the mission, and any gold spent this way is gold you can’t bring back to town to buy character skills and permanent castle upgrades. Is making the game easier in the short term worth it? It’s up to you to decide.

The strength of Gotta Protectors lies in its masterful blend of frenetic action and careful long and short term strategy. Do you spend money building a wall of barriers or turrets, or do you rely on your trigger finger and crowd control attacks to keep enemies at bay? Are you good at putting out multiple fires at once, often quite literally? What do you do when a particularly nasty enemy variant suddenly appears? You will need to make decisions very quickly and have the action game chops to back them up. In multiplayer, you’ll coordinate with friends to achieve the same goal – it’s a little easier with more hands on the deck, but no less fun or frenetic.

But Cart of Darkness isn’t without its flaws, and perhaps its most annoying element is how extremely grumpy it can get. Upgrading your protectors and castle takes a lot of money, and even if you’re thrifty, you can only bring back 9999 gold from a single mission – and you’ll usually bring back a lot less. For reference, new skill sets for each protector cost between 3,000 and 15,000 gold, requiring mission replays and saving to unlock everything. The missions are also quite long – usually around 20-40 minutes for your first playthrough of each – which means collecting that money takes time. Also, if you have to go back to town in the middle of the mission, you have to replay all the cards from that mission. It is very painful if, for example, you reach a map where a very specific skill would make clearing the map considerably easier, but you are not clairvoyant and you have not brought a protector with this skill, you so have to go back. , redo your team, then play again up to the point where you left off.

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One of the features hinted at in the title of Cart of Darkness is finding the hidden power-up game cartridges. These games feature wacky names based on old, well-known titles and grant your protectors extra powers when equipped. It’s a nifty feature, but even it’s affected by the grind: canisters only reach full power after gaining multiple levels in battle, and finding them in the first place requires determining bizarre and arbitrary objectives on each menu. It’s a fun reminder of some of the ridiculous things the old games had you do to find secrets, but pretty boring in practice if you want to find and upgrade all the carts. And sometimes things in Gotta Protectors get too hectic: I failed the maps because I didn’t see that I had accidentally pushed Lola out of the safe walls of her castle while trying to keep a massive attack down. enemies and their magic and projectile attacks at bay.

But even with its flaws, Gotta Protectors is fun, challenging, and unique in both single-player and online or team-based multiplayer. Its mix of goofy humor, old-school visuals and music, and engaging gameplay make it a hard game to put down. Even when you mess up and Lola’s screams obliterate everything, you’ll be itching to come back with what you’ve learned on the map and try again to get it right this time. There’s nothing else like Gotta Protectors, and you better enlist in Lola’s security team.

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