Sugar, spice, and almost everything nice
Fifteen years ago, The Powerpuff Girls was my jam. I used to watch it (along with Dexter's Laboratory) just about every day after coming home from school, but before firing up a videogame. A couple weeks ago, when The Powerpuff Girls: Defenders of Townsville was announced, I approached it with a level of caution appropriate for a beloved childhood franchise resurrected with a new look. That is to say, I was prepared for the worst.
Previously, developer Radiangames was mostly known for a handful of decent, but perhaps uninspired Xbox Live Indie Games. Licensed titles are often sub-par, and especially those that are timed to release in the same window as the source material. Despite all of that, Defenders of Townsville ends up as a unique, genuinely entertaining metroidvania.
The Powerpuff Girls: Defenders of Townsville (Linux, Mac, PC [reviewed])
Publisher: Cartoon Network Games
Released: March 14, 2014
Rig: AMD Phenom II X2 555 @ 3.2 GHz, with 4GB of RAM, ATI Radeon HD 5700, Windows 7 64-bit
In standard fashion for the genre, the Powerpuff Girls lose all of their powers at the onset of the adventure. Mojo Jojo builds a device that erases their procedural memories, causing them to forget how to use all of their powers. He also kidnaps Blossom, Bubbles, and the Mayor, leaving Buttercup to try to save the day.
At the beginning, Buttercup can do nothing more than walk left or right; she cannot even punch or jump. With robots on her tail, she has to stay on the run. It is sort of interesting to be so completely disempowered, but thankfully the section does not last long. One of the first memories Buttercup regains is how to punch. Shortly after that, she remembers how to fly and things really start to feel right for the Powerpuff Girls property.
One design decision that comes off as slightly strange at first is that there are two attack buttons, with one for leftward attacks and the other for rightward attacks. It takes some getting used to, but it quickly becomes clear why it is the way it is: a short time into the game, Buttercup gains a projectile attack, and the control scheme acts as a sort of simplified twin-stick shooter. With independent attack directions, players can fly left while shooting right, or vice versa.
At that point, what appeared to be a brawler becomes more of a shmup. Some enemies put out an unhealthy amount of glowing purple bullets. Though it never reaches the point where it would be called bullet hell, the girls do a fair amount of dodging and shooting from afar, in addition to their more powerful melee attacks when the situation calls for it.
Eventually, Buttercup rescues Blossom and subsequently Bubbles, and the player can switch between the three at will with a quick button press. All three have most of the same basic abilities, but each has her own unique projectile attack. Buttercup has a wave beam-esque pulse that can pass through walls, Blossom throws fireballs that deal splash damage and melt ice, and Bubbles has an ice attack that has the widest spread and can freeze open certain barriers.
The girls' unique abilities provides one of the avenues for blocking progress and backtracking, though other universal abilities are used for this as well. As far as these types of games go, Defenders of Townsville is more open than most, with multiple paths available at any given time, and not much direction on which path makes the most sense.
This highlights one of the weaknesses of the game: the map is less helpful than it should be. With such a nonlinear environment and the backtracking that entails, the map gives no information on what was previously blocking progress. It does show whether a room has a powerup to find and whether it has been cleared of enemies, but little else.
It ends up not being a huge deal, because the area to explore is not too large, and the girls' ability to fly makes traversing it a relatively quick endeavor, but it does seem to be a step back for the genre, which has taken steps in recent years to minimize wasted time and effort.
After completing the first quest, a second one opens up, but the progression is a bit different. In Mojo's Key Quest, the Powerpuff Girls keep all of their regained memories, and sections of the map are locked off by collectible keys rather than by abilities. To compensate for starting almost fully powered up, the robots to fight are more numerous and more formidable than before.
It is in this second quest that the combat really starts to get demanding. With some practice, players are able to fully utilize some of the cool abilities that show up late in the first quest. The girls can punch projectiles out of the sky, use defeated enemies as explosive weapons, and perform devastating charge attacks to drop the robots. Some may find the combat in the first quest to be too easy, but it becomes much more satisfying in the second quest.
Mojo's Key Quest has its own map issues, despite the change in progression. While it does clearly distinguish locked and open doors, it is a larger area with certain doors acting as two-way teleporters. The big thing missing from the in-game map is which teleporters lead to one another, requiring a rote memory component for something that could have easily been represented on the map screen.
Graphically, Defenders of Townsville matches the recent visual reimagining for The Powerpuff Girls, and while I hated it at first, I got used to it by the end of the first two-hour quest. However, series purists and those who cannot get over it have the option to use the classic, thick-outlined art style, which changes not only the character sprites, but also the whole environment. Otherwise, I experienced a bit of noticeable screen tearing, but nothing too distracting from the experience.
The soundtrack is a decent chiptune collection, but it does not especially fit the franchise. It has a bit of a grungy sound to it, rather than the expected sugary pop that many associate with The Powerpuff Girls. It is not bad by any means, but it just does not match.
All in all, I came out of The Powerpuff Girls: Defenders of Townsville pleasantly surprised. Not only does it nail the look and feel of flying around and beating up robots as a Powerpuff Girl, but it also stands in its own right as a unique take on the metroidvania genre. Where most focus on platforming as a means for getting around, the girls' constant flight and projectile arsenal puts an emphasis on shmup gameplay instead.
Though it suffers from a few design oversights, Defenders of Townsville is a good, solid game. It handles the franchise well enough, but it would be good even without the Powerpuff Girls property. At about four hours of total gameplay, it does not overstay its welcome, and it definitely does justice to the franchise.
Powerpuff Girls: Defenders of Townsville reviewed by Darren Nakamura
A solid game that definitely has an audience. Might lack replay value, could be too short or there are some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.
How we score: The Destructoid Reviews Guide