Defense Grid 2, a tower-defense game first released in 2014, has now landed on the Nintendo Switch, and the result is of mixed quality. It's easy to recommend the game at its $19.99 price point - its multiplayer features, numerous levels, and challenge modes ensure plenty of replayability, and its core gameplay is quite enjoyable. Plus, the game also includes the DG2: Aftermath expansion, which was previously exclusive to VR versions of the title. But it's tough to shake the feeling that Defense Grid 2 is a game more at home in 2014 than in 2019. Its mechanics are at times simplistic and at others opaque, resulting in an uneven experience that squanders some of the straightforward pleasure it offers.
In the game, players assume the role of the commander, who works with a group of AIs to combat an invading alien threat. Aliens spawn in waves and march down a predetermined path toward the player's power cores, which serve as lives. Depending on the level, towers can be built around the path (not obstructing alien movement), along it (allowing players to build mazes for the aliens to run through), or both. Players can also equip special abilities, such as a damaging blast and a boost to the destructive capabilities of a tower cluster, that help out in tricky situations.
Tower defenses thrive on tower variety, and Defense Grid 2's is underwhelming. Players unlock all of the towers after a handful of levels, and then gradually unlock customization options for them - like damage-over-time and slowing attacks - but those unlockables are rarely exciting. They merely make the towers stronger, leaving the gameplay largely unchanged. The game suffers from similarly disappointing level design. Although there are some standout stages, many are fairly generic and dull. And as levels grow in size, they sometimes gain multiple enemy spawn points, which can make predicting where the aliens will go a bit confusing. That confusion can feel like an artificial infusion of difficulty: The game becomes harder not because the player must think more critically about their strategy, but because they're disoriented.
Luckily, Defense Grid 2 includes some welcome quality-of-life features. Holding down the left shoulder button restarts the previous round, so players can go back as far as they want to correct any mistakes they make. There's also a fast-forward option that turns the longer, perhaps sluggish levels of 30 or 35 rounds into more frenetic bouts. Unfortunately, players have little reason to opt for regular speed instead of rapid fire, because the strategic differences between rounds can be hard to detect. There are various types of aliens - some have shields, some regenerate life when not being damaged, some heal the aliens around them, etc. - but they all bleed together, compromising the strategic potential inherent in the game. It's possible, for example, to beat the story mode on the default difficulty setting without totally understanding how the aliens' stealth mechanic works.
As far as bugs go, in the course of the play-through for this review, the game crashed once; and, on multiple occasions, returning to the main menu after completing a level left the level marked as uncompleted. But despite its flaws, Defense Grid 2 is ultimately a rather charming game. As the story mode progresses, the AIs supporting the player discuss the brain-washing that's impacting a few of them, and the voice acting by Jennifer Hale, Jim Ward, Alan Tudyk, and the rest of the cast is compelling. It's a shame that dialogue often takes place in the middle of levels, putting it second to the rush to build and upgrade towers. But this is a tower defense, and rare will be the player who comes to it for its narrative. Defense Grid 2, then, is a success, albeit not a perfect one: a fun if simple game that scratches the itch it sets out to satisfy.
Defense Grid 2 is out now on the Nintendo Switch in digital format for $19.99. Screen Rant was provided with a digital download code for the purposes of this review.