The tower defence genre isn't new to the Nintendo DSi's DSiWare shop, with games such as Libera Wing and Nintendo's Starship Defense. And now we have a new challenge to the throne: Dairojo! Samurai Defenders. Set in Japan's Edo period, Dairojo tries to differentiate itself with its unique premise and a focus on arcade-style high score fun in lieu of the more traditional story mode featured in the genre. Does the game succeed, or is this new premise too far out for its own good?
For those not acquainted with the tower defence genre, the player is in control of placing units on a grid, usually to protect specific areas of the map, which in Dairojo's case includes gates and castles, depending on which map is chosen. One such unit type is the simple spearmen, your main ground-attacking forces. Archers and gunners are also available, which can attack from a distance to attack enemies on the ground and in the air. Generals are another option and they help to power up the lesser units that surround them. And finally, a heavy-hitting cannon is also available, which has a large blast radius to attack multiple enemies at once. Each unit can be upgraded up to four times, and if the player wishes, they can be cashed back for gold to reinvest elsewhere on the map for other units.
As the "defence" part of the genre would suggest, the player is faced with 99 waves of enemies aiming to break down your defences one-by-one. True to the Edo period-basing of the game, these waves include period-appropriate warriors, with a slightly cartoonish twist to them. You have you normal ground troops, enemies that burrow through the ground to avoid attacks and even some very un-stealthy bright-pink costumed ninjas that drop down from the air. Their goal: to bring down the "health" of the gates(s) or castle through repeated attacks to give the player a game over.
Dairojo features three main modes: Score Attack, Normal Mode and Random Mode. While they all sound different, they play mostly the same, with each throwing you right into a 99-wave swarm of enemies. This is where the game falls flat, as those who aren't huge fans of the tower defence genre will feel alienated very quickly, as those 99 waves tend to take about a half-hour to beat for seasoned veterans of the genre. Since there is no story mode to help explain the finer details of the game or allow for short 5-15 waves of enemies to beat, those wanting to play the game in short bursts are out of luck, (as there is no suspend functionality) and those who are new to the genre will likely feel overwhelmed and defeated as they lose repeatedly until they grasp the core concepts of the tower defence genre.
However, for those who are huge fans of tower defence games, Dairojo will deliver fun and excitement for you in spades. The game can be controlled by traditional methods as well as using the touch screen. The menu options are always laid out within an arm's reach, which is crucial for the later enemy swarms when things get increasingly hectic. Surprisingly, the game performs exceptionally well under those later swarms, with no noticeable slowdown present. As an added touch, the game also includes a number of items that can be obtained by defeating enemies, which range from restoring your gate/castle's health to tricking enemies. And for you hardcore purists out there, items can be turned off before each battle.
Dairojo also has quite a wide selection of extras outside the main modes mentioned previously. The player can broadcast the game to other Nintendo DS units over DS Download Play to take part in a "versus" mode. Sadly this doesn't allow for two players to work together on the same map, instead having both players fight against the same enemies on the same map, declaring the winner as the person who kept going for the longest time. The options menu, along with the normal volume control settings, allows players to listen to any of the game's tracks and sound effects, which is a nice touch many games in the genre fail to include.
Dairojo! Samurai Defenders is quite a unique game that has a clear indication of who it's targeting. Those who are hardcore fans of the tower defence genre will find a lot to love here. Newcomers and relative newbies to the genre might want to look elsewhere if you're averse to losing repeatedly until you get down the basics. Even with its minor flaws, this is arguably one of best tower defence games available on the system.