It’s truly difficult to feign a lack of interest when looking at Laser Disco Defenders (LDD) for the first time. LDD is a Frankenstein of ambition, combining the funky 1970s aesthetic (and music to match) with gameplay that requires some pretty fast reflexes if you want to persevere. You play as a motley band of heroes vying to preserve the sanctity of disco. As you zip around the randomly generated in-game maps, every attempt to blast an enemy with your laser attack will supply the level with a new obstacle: yourself. Every laser you fire remains in an indefinitely ricocheting existence until the stage’s end, making it a requirement to avoid the danger proposed by yourself in addition to your enemies. It’s a concept rooted in simplistic minimalism as it promotes the merger of strategic positioning with a reflexive level of skill.
Different modes of the game allow players set new goals and personal achievements in an endless stream of levels, or experience the narrative from a collection of cutscenes found by pushing through the game’s primary story mode. New items can be unlocked for the disco-themed A-Team, providing yet another source of motivation to stay at your seat. With this, a question is begged: will you feel compelled enough to endure LDD‘s hellish environments made with equal parts lasers and funk?
Stayin’ alive is the name of the game—a goal that quickly becomes tedious thanks to an amalgam of frustrating visuals and a small arsenal of options. These two grievances intend to work together to amplify the other in a positive direction; in a somewhat masochistic regard, it can be effective. You control one of four people: Mr. Baker, Tommy, Donna, and Liz, each one color coded and designed to portray a characteristic of the music scene in the 70s. Unfortunately, differences between the characters exist minimally outside of their visual design. Mr. Baker has the most health, but he is definitely the slowest one in the bunch. Liz, on the other hand, can only take one hit before sending players back to the menu. Tommy and Donna exist between the two extremes. Everyone shares the same pool of outfit options, and each one changes in appearance depending on the character wearing it. Though this introduces customization to the game through aesthetic differences that simultaneously alter how the game can be played, uniqueness between each of character ends at their speed, health, and laser color. Character choice is kept incredibly simple as LDD continually relies upon player performance instead of in-game features. This performance, however, is all too often affected by unintended(?) visual and design blotches.
Backgrounds seem to merge with foregrounds, certain colored lasers can be difficult to keep track of with certain backdrops, and the camera is entirely its own beast with a convincing level of malevolent sentience. It’s not necessarily that the camera tracking is bad, it just doesn’t at all mesh well with the jerky movements and adjustments of position in-game. It doesn’t stay centered on your character, and jerks around quite often depending on the direction you’re facing—and that is constantly changing. As it tries to keep up with following your movements, it often shrouds the positioning of enemies in a rude way that can too easily send you home packing. I’m not quite sure how long the beat will go on for players if elements such as these are where the developer intended to use as a source from which to draw the game’s difficulty. These seemingly inadvertent complications can (and will) craft a challenging experience, so those looking for a sense of accomplishment will definitely find it after jumping the many hurdles that LDD‘s gameplay presents.
You’ll be a dancing queen among the lasers (by force) in no time, but LDD doesn’t leave you entirely on your own in your journey. Enemies will infrequently drop orbs that, when collected, grant you a single use of one of four power-ups. These can range from sucking up every visible laser into a black hole to clear the field of any self-imposed danger to modifying your laser attack to a solid beam of funky death used to safely slice through the swath of enemies. Utilizing these can immediately change the pace of each stage, but their use is never forced on the player. They act as lifelines for players to remove themselves from sticky situations, but those looking for an even bigger challenge can ignore them altogether.
Each level houses three missions that can be seen from the game’s menu, as well, offering players another incentive to continue shaking their groove thing. These often consist of simple goals like destroying ten of one particular enemy, doing well enough to stack your score multiplier up to a certain point, or hitting a certain score point value before inevitably killing yourself with your own laser disco inferno. Successfully completing these tasks will progress players through a cyclical leveling process that offers a new item or piece of the story upon the filling of the experience bar. Selecting items, characters—really anything in this game can be terribly inconvenient for a few moments, however, as parts of the buttons on LDD‘s interface are unresponsive. You’ll equip that brand new visor eventually, it just may take you a few unnecessary clicks to do it.
Glaring issues aside, Laser Disco Defenders has a unique foundation of fun. There’s a lot of unfortunate layers to this game that demand your attention and prevent the game’s quality aspects from shining through. And for as reliant on the disco theme as the game is, the groovy aesthetic really has no bearing on the game outside of a few funky instrumentals constantly playing in the background. There are definitely some good times to be had with this one, you’ll just have to dig through a bit of tribulations to get there.
“Making you a better geek, one post at a time!”
Review statement: The PC copy of the game was given to the author by the publisher for the purpose of this review.