Gotta Protectors is the Nintendo 3DS sequel to the Xbox 360’s Protect Me Knight, a strategic beat’em up with tower defense elements that tasks players with protecting a princess on various maps while also defeating legions of enemies. It’s also a game that revels in classic design elements and kitsch. Every part of this colorful adventure is a love letter to classic Famicom games.
This is evident from the Gotta Protectors intro. The game begins with a TV on the top screen and a system resembling Nintendo’s Famicom on the bottom. A cartridge for the game has been put in the slot, but it isn’t playing properly. Attempting to put it in again with the A button will cause more distortions. How do you get it to start? Well, you could take the easy way out and press Start to skip all this, or you can blow into the Nintendo 3DS’ mic. You will then blow the dust out of the “cartridge” and it will work properly. One of Princess Lola’s in-battle quips even cautions you about blowing too hard or much, warning that you might hyperventilate.
Gotta Protector’s presentation is designed to bring back those fond memories. Ancient works with a limited color palette and very basic sprites, to maintain the game’s 8-bit appearance. The soundtrack is made up of chip-tunes. Everything is designed to convey the most detail possible within the limits of that classic style. It’s like Retro City Rampage, in that it feels very period appropriate.
It helps that Gotta Protectors subtly salutes other games in the most casual and relaxed ways. The opening menu, where you choose between single and multiplayer modes, offers a faux-3D effect, like 3D World Runner. The after-battle reward screen, where it doles out fruit or crafting materials, resembles Adventure Island’s. Many of the playable characters’ designs, in particular the Fighter and Mage, would fit right in with an early Final Fantasy game. The goblins and nights are dead ringers for The Legend of Zelda’s moblins. Speaking of which, two fairies named Crystalis and Pupa run the castle’s shoppe, and they look quite a bit like The Legend of Zelda’s fairies too. Everything pulls together to reference classic gaming media.
Yet, despite this dedication to keeping it old school, Gotta Protectors itself feels remarkably fresh. The gameplay is the kind of hybrid you don’t often see, as it’s a free-for-all that still requires careful plotting and strategy to survive. You’re able to acquire materials and money for crafting purposes, earning additional skills for your group of characters and new equipment. It’s possible to invest in the base’s castle, princess, shoppe, dojo, and people, in the hopes the strength that comes from such things will get you through the battles ahead. There’s even rudimentary crafting, either by collecting items to trade at the dojo or shop or popping them into the cellar’s magical pot to make a ring.
Then, there’s it’s instruction manual. Though this is a Nintendo eShop exclusive, Gotta Protectors brings out the big guns with instructions straight out of the NES era. There’s even an Ancient Seal of Quality, replacing the Nintendo Seal of Quality. The more you play the game, the more worn out the manual looks. There’s even a memo section, which seems a little impractical considering you can’t actually take notes? But it’s a spot-on duplicate of the manuals we’re accustomed to.
Of course, many of things also serve to remind you that Gotta Protectors isn’t intended as a single player experience. Yes, there is a solo campaign. It’s rather robust, with 100 levels to go through. But the size, scope, and difficulty of these, plus the original Protect Me Knight’s focus on the local multiplayer experience, constantly reminds you of how much easier it all would be if you had at least one other person to help. Monsters come from all angles, some magical ones even going through barricades or shooting off spells that could hit Princess Lola from a distance. It really feels like it encourages you to experiment and build yourself up on your own, then get someone else to join in via local or Download Play. Which makes sense, since the Nintendo and Famicom era was a time when couch co-op reigned supreme.
Gotta Protectors takes things just far enough so you can see what they’re doing there, hopefully appreciate it, then learn the delicate nuances that come from improving characters and mastering situations. It finds a theme, a feeling, and sticks with it. It keeps evoking and tugging on your heartstrings, reminding you of the fun you used to have with those tough-as-nails Nintendo games. At the same time, it sprinkles in a few modern elements and features, to keep things feeling fresh, resulting in one of the more entertaining Nintendo eShop exclusives.
Gotta Protectors is immediately available for the Nintendo 3DS.