Laser Disco Defenders review for PS Vita

Platform: PS Vita
Publisher: Excalibur Games
Developer: Excalibur Games/Out of Bounds Games
Medium: Digital
Players: 1
Online: No
ESRB: E10+

I have a complicated relationship with hard games. On the one hand, I play nearly everything on the easiest difficulty setting available, since I don’t generally like being enraged by what I’m playing. On the other hand, every so often I’ll get hooked on a super-hard game and I’ll keep playing no matter how many times I die. I can’t quite put a finger on why my brain puts Dark Souls-type games on one side of that line and the likes of Hotline Miami on the other, but I know that the line exists.

It’s also a line that Laser Disco Defenders keeps bouncing back and forth across. On the one hand, it’s ridiculously difficult. It’s a twin-stick shooter whose twist (that your fired lasers never disappear, they just keep bouncing around the small, confined space in which you’re flying) seems to run contrary to the point of the genre. Even if you’re surrounded by enemies, you may be able to take them out with a well-placed shot, but that doesn’t actually lessen the peril in which you find yourself — it just means you have a different, arguably more unpredictable danger to worry about.

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As you can imagine, for someone — say, like me — who tends to approach twin-stick shooters with a “guns blazing” attitude, it makes for a challenging experience. The more you shoot, the harder Laser Disco Defenders gets. This was a truth that hit home for me again and again and again, as I never came anywhere close to the end of the game. To some degree, this was because, on top of the challenging gameplay, there were some goals that seemed simply unrealistic. In general, though, my failings were because this is a really, really hard game.

And yet, I kept going back to it again and again. I’d start up a new game, die somewhere around the fifth procedurally-generated world or so, and begin again in a new World 1 almost immediately. I did so even though I showed virtually no improvement after playing for hours and hours. Why? Because it was fun, that’s why.

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It helps, too, that the controls are as simple and tight as any twin-stick shooter; left stick moves your character, right stick aims your shot, and you fire your laser with the right shoulder button. It’s as straightforward as it gets, and it’s intuitive enough that you never feel the game is asking you to do anything impossible. The whole aesthetic also does a great job of keeping things light and breezy; between the psychedelic colours and the pulsating disco soundtrack, it’s easy to get in a groove, even if that groove is carried out over several different games.

In fact, just about my only qualm with Laser Disco Defenders is that aforementioned insane level of difficulty. Normally, that might be a dealbreaker for me, but when the overall package is as enjoyable as this one is, that’s a problem I have no issue overlooking.

Grade: A-