An Exercise in Inclusivity: Defenders of Townsville

Usually tie-in games based on franchises aimed at children fail…horribly. These games are usually filled with poor platforming physics, repetitive combat, and boring puzzles — if you can even call them that. Needless to say, my expectations going into radiangames’ Powerpuff Girls: Defenders of Townsville were pretty low, and I was blown away. Instead of a poorly conceived platformer I found a Metroidvania styled shmup with depth. But I’m not going to rave about how good the game is. If that genre mix sounds like peanut butter and chocolate then you should play it. Instead, Defenders of Townsville is filled with design choices that developers should take note on as many are based around accessibility and making the game enjoyable for as many people possible.

First off are the controls, which feel comfortable using both touch input and controllers. This can be attributed to the simplicity found in the number of inputs: a joystick and four buttons. The four actions are Attack, Fly Faster, Change Weapon, and Change Character with Attack being the only one actually used in instances where reflexes matter. This means for the majority of the game, the only required thoughts are about moving and shooting — one joystick and one button. Changing weapons and characters are usually only used to solve puzzles and flying fast is something I only used to get across the map faster. It can eventually be used as an attack but shooting beams always proves to be more efficient. Don’t for a second think that a one button combat system is shallow though. A lot of thought went into making the combat deeper than it appears. When the attack button is pressed the Powerpuff girl punches AND shoots a beam, with both being a separate attack. Melee and ranged have been combined into one. While shooting only has offensive means, punching is used to deflect missiles and bombs back at attackers. This clever disguise of masking defensive attributes into the attack not only keeps the controls simple but simultaneously introduces strategy to the typical “mash the attack button” gameplay of most shmups. Deflecting incoming attacks requires the punch be perfectly timed. Thus, the player is given the option to mash the attack for maximum damage output or attack less often but avoid damage. By reducing every possible action to one button the developers have created a system that is more strategic than games in the same genre with more buttons.

Easter eggs hunts are becoming very popular in modern gaming, especially within the open world genre. Very rarely are these collectables displayed on a map though. In fact, most in game maps do a terrible job at conveying any relative information about the game and most are used solely to access the GPS function. Defenders of Townsville displays everything one would need to know to get a 100% save file. From a quick glance you can see which doors you haven’t opened, which rooms still hold a powerup, and which rooms you have destroyed every enemy in. In an alternate game mode there is even color coded doors so the player can tell which doors can be opened with the keys they currently have. Now, some may argue that this is too easy or takes away from the sense of exploration and I won’t disagree. There is definitely room for both systems though. Not everyone has excess time to return to every single room looking for that one key they missed. I find it very odd we have games with hundreds of options to fine tune the graphical levels of a game but very few options, if any, to cater the game to an individual’s experience with the game. Allowing a player to select what “extra” information is displayed on a map doesn’t sound very difficult to program and would allow more people to enjoy a game extraneous features.

Speaking of using options to allow for different experiences, Defenders of Townsville is ready for everyone. Aside from the standard three tiered difficulty system, Defenders of Townsville unlocks an advanced game mode after finished Story Mode. Titled Mojo’s Key Quest, this remix mode changes the map layout, enemy types, enemy combinations, and drastically increases the number of enemies per room. To balance it a little bit the player starts off with all three Powerpuff Girls and most of the abilities. Nine keys are hidden throughout the map, but the catch is that some of the doors have different properties. Some of the doors now require a certain amount of keys to be found to unlock while other doors are teleporters to other parts of the map. The difference between Casual difficulty Story Mode and Hardcore difficulty Key Quest is immense and there is tons of variation in between. Despite not having any impact on the game itself there is a setting to change the visual style of the game with the choice of the classic style or the modern reboot. What surprised me was that it wasn’t just the in game sprites that were changed but the cutscenes as well.

Powerpuff Girls: Defenders of Townsville is a prime example of what can be accomplished when the goal is to include as many people as possible. Despite the game simply being a mashup of two genres, there was a lot of innovation going on to ensure the game was accessible while still retaining the depth expected from the genres. This kind of thinking wasn’t simply aimed at combat alone but the entire user experience and resulted in improving an aspect that I didn’t even know needed improving, the map. Radiangames went above and beyond in ensuring their game could be an enjoyable experience for everyone who wants to play it. Hopefully the future will make articles like this obsolete as more games become inclusive experience. Until then, both developers old and new should be taking down notes about designing games for everyone.

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