There's no getting around the fact that tower defence titles have been done to death in recent years. Checking the genre listings on Steam shows that 135 of them are up for grabs on PC at the time of writing. With that said, the apparent limitations of using a controller as opposed to a keyboard and mouse means that not a great deal of them have reached consoles. Kaiju Panic is one of these rare jumpers, leaping to Xbox One in a cloud of cutesy visuals.
But you'd be wrong to let those graphics fool you. Make no mistake about it, there's quite the game to be found under the layers of almost luminous green grass and endearing comedy speech bubbles that Kaiju Panic presents you with. For those not familiar with the genre, tower defence essentially sees you – as the name would suggest – defend your tower or base from those that wish to raze it to the ground. You do this by creating weapons and other such things that will inhibit the progress of your enemies, using the generally limited resources that you have to hand. Kaiju Panic follows this formula, requiring you to mine your resources from giant crystals that are strewn about before you start prepping your defences. It also throws in a new mechanic, in the form of protecting survivors. The world is under attack from the dreaded Kaiju and sadly, only a few folks have survived. Rather than controlling a faceless cursor as you would in other games in the genre, you directly control the leader of a survival group, running around levels and corralling other survivors to join your cause. Once they're in your group, you can use them to speed up builds immensely by standing close to a facility that is under construction and watching them automatically run in and get to work. Not only that, but survivors can be deployed to man your new constructions, giving them increased abilities or – in some cases – hampering them.
What this means is that the survivors become a commodity in the same way that your building resources are. You might find that you start building a few turrets and load four survivors into them in order to increase the range of the guns. Do this a few times and you'll be running around the map on your own, since all of your group are now working in the turrets. When an enemy appears on the other side of the map and you build a laser to stop it, you won't have any survivors left to deploy, so you'll be running back to grab a couple from the gun emplacements so that you can repurpose them to increase the range and reload speed of your newly-created laser defence. You also need to keep them safe from harm. A turret that contains four survivors will see them run for the hills in "panic mode" when it's destroyed by an enemy, so you'll need to wait for them to calm down and then try to find them on the map before they end up being obliterated by the Kaiju. It's during these re-recruitment periods that you'll first realise that your own character can fall victim to the enemy as well. Not a great deal is made of your own mortality, but if you run into an enemy – which is something you wouldn't usually do, since you're generally behind your defences – you can end up kicking the bucket, so it isn't just your base that needs to be protected. The final stage of each of the game's main chapters sees you trying to fend off waves of attackers until a transport craft turns up. When it does, you have a limited time to run around and get all of the survivors out of your defence buildings in order to lead them to the craft and get away. All the while, the Kaiju are attacking everything in sight. Even on the very first of these levels, you'll lose a survivor or two as the gameplay switches from being a relatively slow, careful, and considered affair to being an all-out dash for survival.
RIP, Maximillian Mohawk. We hardly knew ye.
The entire concept of protecting a group of survivors whilst utilising their skills for the overall cause is a really fresh addition that makes Kaiju Panic feel like more than just your standard tower defence game.
Each continent on the planet is under attack so each one needs to be defended. You'll kick off by defending Europe over several stages, then several in Africa, and so on and so forth. But by the time you're halfway through the second set of challenges, it's a little unsettling to find that there's a good chance that you'll need to go back and replay some missions in order to grind out enough research points to be able to build what you need to in order to even stand a chance of success. The reason for this is that while every type of weapon can be upgraded and a number of specific perks can be bought with the same currency, there's little guidance as to what you really should be upgrading. You might spend all of your points on unlocking a sniper tower and then upgrading it four times, only to find that the next level contains enemies that are all but immune to standard bullets and that you should have been upgrading your lasers. This is also an upshot of Kaiju Panic's inability to explain which enemies are susceptible to different types of ammunition. Sure, you can see that information in between levels when you're in the lab, but it can be the difference between success and failure to forget which of the enemy types can be taken down with a bullet and which need to be soaked in acid. Having access to the Kaiju encyclopedia during gameplay would have fixed this issue, but that's not to be.
With that said, because the gameplay generally holds up, replaying missions that you've failed because you've misidentified an enemy or that you need to play again in order to get more research points is generally fun and will give you a chance to fulfil an objective or two that you missed out on first time around. It'll also be easier given that you'll be able to remember the paths that the enemies take on their way to your tower, which is something that will cause you a lot of grief when you first tackle a stage. The enemies don't move randomly across the map, but until you've seen the path that they'll take, you can't really predict where they're going to actually go. Obviously, when you're building fixed-position defences, that's a bit of a problem. You can build a gun that's in the general area that the game suggests the enemy will appear but if that big old gumball-looking alien decides to hang a hard right before they're in range, you'll find yourself needing to demolish and rebuild in a better location. You'll often not have time to complete that second build and that will undoubtedly cause frustration and a failed level from time to time.
It would be harsh to overly punish Kaiju Panic for the problems that it contains, simply because the mix of tower defence and RTS gameplay works so well. It surely won't be to everybody's tastes and some will get frustrated when a lack of knowledge or a varying enemy attack path causes them to fail a level, but those that like a challenge will enjoy what Mechabit have created here.