Part twin-stick shooter, part tower defence strategy, X-Morph Defense is now available on Nintendo Switch - after originally launching on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC in 2017.
The premise of the story is straightforward stuff; aliens are attacking the earth in an attempt to harvest its resources, and the humans are hell-bent on stopping them. The twist here, however, is that you play as the aliens and must rebuff the human defenders by applying the weapons of your towers and the ship you directly control as best as you can.
Towers, of course, are placed on the map - preferably in places that allow them to fire upon enemy units (which follow set paths) but that’s up to you. The enemies tend to change up their routes between each attack wave and some maps even expand over the course of a level, typically exposing your base to a completely different set of risks as it does so, but towers are also easily repositioned, so the test here is more about thinking on your feet than precognition.
Your ship and towers can be upgraded between levels using skill points you unlock as by completing the previous scenarios, augmenting their abilities with additional - albeit optional - abilities. For example, you can convert the base tower into one that attacks only air-based enemies, or you could turn it into a long-range artillery unit.
Each deployed tower costs a unit of energy to place then a unit to upgrade it to the next tier; this energy is completely refunded if you sell or downgrade the tower, too, giving you unlimited flexibility when changing your tower layout between waves of enemy attacks.
Another interesting feature of X-Morph Defense is the way in which you can create laser fences between nearby turrets which force human enemies to take an alternate path to your base (their objective). This adds a new layer of strategy to most maps and can really change up your approach - although completely re-jigging your turret layout when the humans change up their attack routes between waves can be a bit tiresome.
Units used against you start with the typical (things that shoot at you, things that shoot at your base, things that are strong / weak against this weapon type, things that heal other enemies - you get the idea) but evolve fairly quickly to include some seriously cool boss-type enemies, which are typically capable of going wherever they want (routes be damned!). Bosses tend to be seriously grunty and behave in phases that require you to re-plan part way through. They also tend to wreck the cities the humans should really be trying to protect, highlighting the game’s cool destruction system as bridges and building fall apart piece by piece.
While the enemy units are charging towards your base and your towers are peppering them as best they can, you also have full control of a morphable spaceship with a huge array - especially once you spend some skill points - of powerful weapons on board. Toggling between morphs with the shoulder buttons, you can choose between projectiles that have a similar set of strengths and weaknesses against different types of enemies as your towers do. This clever extension of the standard rock-paper-scissors mechanic at the heart of most tower defence games works just as well here as it does in games like Super Stardust HD.
Toggling between building a robust tower configuration and blowing things up with your X-Morph ship is just the start of the focus-shifting you’ll need to do if you want to succeed. During the waves of enemy attacks, you’ll frequently find yourself toggling between shooting down enemy fighters, hunting repair units, softening heavy targets, and falling back to defend your base against anything that got through your weaponised net. It’s here the game really shines; action is frantic and your strategic options nearly limitless - there’s always a way you can change things up to beat a level that previously wiped the floor with you.
That said, it is pretty tough - I started on normal and got quite a few levels in before needing to switch to easy - which wasn’t much easier. There are three difficulty levels above normal, too, so if you’re god-tier at these kinds of games, chances are pretty good you’ll still find a challenge here. As for me, well, I’m going to need to keep tweaking my approach if I’m going to get to the last level in Japan. Fortunately, there’s a decent amount of material here and plenty of things to try, so there’s no shortage of fun to be had on the way.
With great tower defence AND great shooting action, X-Morph Defense breathes very welcome fresh air into a genre that can otherwise be quite samey. The action looks as good as it is fun, too, with lots of things going on at any given moment and all of it very exciting to behold. Highly recommended to anyone who wants a little more action in their strategy.