Gotta Protectors: Cart of Darkness, the long-overdue sequel to Protect Me Knight and Gotta Protectors is… well, it’s a lot. But in a really good way.
Imagine an 8-bit Musou/Dynasty Warriors with armies of pixelated monsters. Now imagine the goal of each level is to protect a princess. But what if the princess was in a castle, and that castle was also a tank? And what if that castle tank was on a railroad headed to an enemy castle, with which it must smash into and destroy? Well, now you know what Gotta Protectors is all about, and it is glorious.
But let’s backtrack a bit. Classic Sega composer, the great Yuzo Koshiro (Streets of Rage, Actraiser, and Revenge of Shinobi) has a games company. Founded with his mum, Tomo, and sister, Ayano, Ancient has quietly been in existence since the early 90s. They’ve been involved in Sonic the Hedgehog (on Master System and Game Gear), Shenmue (as one of the many companies brought in to help development), and created a small Xbox Live game called Protect Me Knight in 2010.
A 3DS sequel to Protect Me Knight released in 2014 in Japan and 2016 in America as Gotta Protectors, but for whatever reason, not in Europe. Perhaps this curtailed its potential audience, as I’d never even heard of these games until seeing the drool-worthy new trailer for Gotta Protectors: Cart of Darkness. One look at its pixel art, witty writing, and delicious NES colour palette meant I simply had to experience it. Hopefully, Gotta Protectors finds a larger audience as, after playing it, Cart of Darkness is everything the hilarious trailer makes it out to be, and a lot, lot more.
Cart of Darkness only has one attack button (the other three face buttons are for a variety of skills), which you tap for a small combo. That sounds simplistic, which it is, but the way you learn how every other aspect of the game compliments each other – that’s where the fun begins.
Attacking enemies is important, but you can also attack the various protective barricades on the map. What good is attacking barricades meant to protect you? Well, if you hit them, they heal. Yes, attacking is also defensive. Your one little attack button does more than one thing. You’ll desperately run around the map, taking out all the enemies, hitting the barricades to keep even more enemies from charging into your territory, and yet there’s more.
Princess Lola, the proverbial tower to defend, loves to reward a good kill streak. So, not unlike modern Doom, weaker enemies can be used as fodder to keep your kill streak going, for which the reward will be a super move.
Now, you see a powerful enemy on the map. Instead of focusing on that powerful enemy, you learn to rush through the weaker enemies, keeping your streak going, whilst also making sure to attack the barricades (refreshing the amount of time you have before the princess is in danger), before receiving your super move to use on said powerful enemy. But, maybe there are two powerful enemies somewhere else on the map that super move can help obliterate? Or, maybe there’s a group of enemies nearing the princess, and you can clearly see a lot of weaker enemies en route to the stronger enemies that will most definitely get you a super move. Do you use it now or keep it? Oh! Also, the Princess heals your health and magic if you’re near the castle, so maybe a little detour will be beneficial. There’s so much moment-to-moment decision-making happening in Cart of Darkness it’s often dizzying – and the above scenario doesn’t even factor in the various skills, switching characters, types of enemies, and innovative level design.
You choose 3 characters from a selection of 8, including a nudist ninja, a pudgy Amazon warrior, a geriatric knight, and more wonderful weirdos, each one distinct, hilarious, and fun to play as. They’re also customisable with interesting skills to change how you play. Potion heals everything around you, Carry lets you move barricades, turrets, and the Princess, while the geriatric knight has a heat-seeking missile called Geezaton. All the skills are worthwhile, so buying new ones from the shop adds some fun experimentation. Since each level offers something new – like keys, railroad switches, and teleporting doors (and these are just from the tutorial) – tailoring your characters and skills is important and adds to the game’s replayability.
Unfortunately, the campaign can be a bit of a slog as it takes around 20-30 minutes of intense gameplay to complete one mission, with no chance to save until it’s over. Four levels make up one mission with a handy power-up system that happens between them. Whatever gold you earn, you use to power your skills, stats, barricades, or the Princess, which resets every mission. This allows you to customise depending on the mission. It’s a great way to control your own difficulty as you can be stingy and save as much of your gold as possible, or use it all and power yourself up. It adds another layer of engagement, as sometimes spending gold early will get you better rewards later on.
Gotta Protectors: Cart of Darkness is fun, inventive, and packed full of personality. You start the game hitting the screen as if it’s an old tv not working and can look at some vintage game magazine imagery as a toilet break pause option – oh and how could I forget the 900 plus parody NES cartridges to collect and equip? And a deliciously moreish Yuzo Koshiro soundtrack, local and online multiplayer, DLC with more levels, skills, and music, and–
Gotta Protectors: Cart of Darkness is a dizzying, pixelated explosion that takes a lot out of you. It carries the spirit of retro gaming without feeling like a pastiche. Such madness deserves to be played and for Ancient’s hard work not to go unnoticed this time.
Game: Gotta Protectors
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: Out Now