Retro-throwback is a popular aesthetic these days. Turns out, detailed 2D pixel art, jammin’ chiptune soundtracks, and pick-up-and-playability are timeless. One under-the-radar series that’s been rocking the retro aesthetic is Gotta Protectors, a multiplayer overhead action/tower defense/real-time strategy fusion that’s earned fervent fans. Gotta Protectors: Cart of Darkness is the series’ latest entry, and it’s a frenetically fun and strategic adventure alone or with up to three companions.
The world of Gotta Protectors is one of those video game fantasy universes where hordes of monsters are always attacking, placing the kingdom in peril. Fortunately, the kingdom has Princess Lola and her magical banner that can heal and protect all of her subjects… except for herself. That’s a pretty fatal flaw, but fortunately, she’s got a guardian army: the Gotta Protectors, a motley gang of warriors and weirdos whose purpose is to keep Lola from harm (and quench her thirst for monster blood by proxy). And Lola needs to be kept safe from all harm, because there’s one other power she wields: a shriek of frustration that can destroy everything.
From the outset, it’s clear that Gotta Protectors does not take itself very seriously. Your gang of Protectors consists of a variety fantasy classes, each with something a little off about them. This includes an obnoxiously smug archer, an old paladin trying to relive his glory days by riding a toy horse, a ninja whose quest for unencumbered speed has left him practically naked, a mystic whose anti-social nature leaves you wondering whose side she’s really on, and an amazon who is what the kids these days call “thicc,” among others. Adding to their humor is the fact that they’re all aware that they’re in a video game, breaking the fourth wall and making deliberately-cringey 90’s pop culture and game references. Princess Lola, despite being so helpless that she can’t even move by herself, gives them somewhat backhanded encouragement while gleefully reveling in their monster murder. The bizzare, humorous atmosphere and charming visual Easter eggs scattered throughout (try pressing X on the pause screen) are a delight, and help make Cart of Darkness stand out among similar retro-styled games.
That’s not to say that the gameplay isn’t up to scratch, however, because Gotta Protectors is delightfully frenetic. Princess Lola commands a rolling fortress-city-on-wheels that travels along train tracks to ram into and wreck enemy strongholds… provided she’s sitting in the driver’s seat. As Lola either waits or chugs along the tracks in her battle fortress, enemy hordes will appear and attempt to swarm the castle and harm her. That’s where you (and other players) come in–you’ll need to keep Lola and the castle safe until the enemy base is destroyed, because if she takes too much damage, she will scream everything into oblivion.
Progress in Cart of Darkness is mission-based, with each mission having four maps. After building a team of three Protectors and setting up their skills, you’ll be sent off to the battlefield to guard Princess Lola, scurrying around the maps to set up barriers and autofire turrets, taking out monster-generating statues, and making sure that you, Lola, her castle, and the barricades are all in good shape. It might sound hectic–and it is! Enemy swarms will appear at certain points, and you’ll need to adjust tactics on the fly to deal with the variety of foes: goblin grunts, beefy damage-sponge minotaurs, evasive flying bat and succubus gangs, vanishing ghosts, bomb-throwing werebears, speedy lizardmen, poison-barfing zombies, and hard-shelled giant insects. Every once in a while there’s a huge boss enemy that will require wits and strength to overcome, too, challenging you to employ unorthodox strategies to keep their overwhelming strength at bay.