Defend the Rook – Review
Follow Genre: Tower defense, turn-based strategy
Developer: One Up Plus
Publisher: Goblinz Studio, Maple Whispering
Platform: PC, Switch
Tested on: Switch

Defend the Rook – Review

Site Score
Good: An interesting blend of two different genres
Bad: Controls on the Switch feel very clunky
User Score
(1 votes)
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Rating: 8.0/10 (1 vote cast)

A mere six months after Defend the Rook saw its release on Steam, the turn-based strategy/tower defense hybrid game makes the jump to the Switch. With a lovely fantasy setting and an interesting gameplay concept, this is a game that is likely going to be on many strategy title enthusiasts’ radars. Being able to play turn-based strategy on the go is always a fun idea, and the €11.24 price point on Switch is also significantly lower than the €17.99 for the Steam version. So, this port should be the way to go if you want to experience Defend the Rook, right? Read on to find out!


In the opening scene of Defend the Rook, we meet the Magister, who has the ability to use a game board and miniatures to fight battles. The Queen has come to seek his aid, as the realm is threatened by various neighboring countries. The Magister agrees to help her, in exchange for a generous amount of gold, of course. After the Queen agrees to his terms, the Magister takes his game board and prepares to take down the enemies of the realm, one at a time. This setup serves as little more than a way to give context to Defend the Rook, and it doesn’t quite delve into how the Magister’s actions affect the world outside of the game board. Do the heroes manifest as avatars in real life, waging war against the invading hordes in real-time? Or does the Magister play this board game against the enemy leaders through telepathic means? It’s a shame that we don’t really get an answer to these fundamental questions.


We quite enjoyed Defend the Rook’s visuals even if they aren’t overly detailed. For the majority of the time, you’ll be looking at the game board, and characters are represented as miniatures. The designs for the heroes felt very reminiscent of the visuals we saw last year in Guards. The distinct character designs make it very easy to identify enemy types at a glance, at the cost of making enemy warriors feel like individuals. During story scenes, we’re treated to hand-drawn character portraits instead and these look fantastic.


Given the polished but relatively simplistic visuals seen here, we were surprised to find that Defend the Rook actually features voice acting during the story scenes. It’s not often that a game that focuses on gameplay rather than story treats players to voiced characters after all. Unfortunately, although the performances are decent enough, the audio quality of the voice work is not. The music, on the other hand, sounds crisp and is very befitting of the high fantasy setting.


By combining turn-based strategy gameplay with tower defense mechanics, Defend the Rook is able to present players with solid core gameplay that feels rather unique. Players take control of four miniatures, representing the heroes at their disposal: the warrior, the sorcerer, the rogue and the titular rook. The rook is the most important piece on the board, and must be kept alive -hence the game’s title. Fortunately, the rook is a powerful miniature in its own right, so you don’t need to continuously keep it out of harm’s way. Should things go awry, then it’s important to keep in mind that there is no permadeath, so you can sacrifice your other heroes if it means that you can prevent the rook’s demise. The miniatures represent the turn-based strategy mechanics of Defend the Rook, and the tower defense aspect comes in the form of a different set of tools: you also have access to a series of placeable towers and traps, as well as limited-use magical attacks that affect multiple enemies at the same time.

Enemies attack in waves, and after each wave, you’ll be able to apply an upgrade to one of your non-rook heroes. Each hero has access to unique upgrades, but which one you are able to unlock is randomized, so it’s often highly situational which is the best choice. During the first few waves, you’ll need to wipe out every enemy that comes your way, and when the last wave of a level arrives, it’s a matter of killing the boss that accompanies it. After this, you can claim victory and get to level up your heroes by spending any XP you’ve earned in the level. XP is cumulative for the entire party, so you can have your warrior grind XP which you’ll then use to level up your sorcerer, for example.

In terms of core gameplay, Defend the Rook is a fun little game that is easy to pick up, but it also provides plenty of challenge for genre enthusiasts. The in-game tutorial does a fantastic job of easing players into the mechanics, while still leaving plenty of freedom for players to come up with their own strategies rather than forcing players to follow one specific method of play. Because of this, the gameplay never becomes repetitive or boring, and it doesn’t overstay its welcome, even if there is fairly little variety here. The actual campaign also offers several difficulty levels which bodes well for replayability. However, not all is well here: Defend the Rook didn’t quite survive the transition to Switch as smoothly as it should. Moving units around the board with the control sticks feels awkward and clunky, and it continuously feels like you need to press too many buttons in order to perform actions. The game was clearly designed with a mouse and keyboard in mind -the game even refers to keyboard shortcuts when placing towers or traps. The Defend the Rook port is certainly playable, but the way things are implemented are far from elegant and if we were to choose our platform, we’d go for the PC version without a doubt.


We definitely enjoyed our time with Defend the Rook, even if the Switch version suffers from clunky controls. This should be a no-brainer if you’re a fan of either turn-based strategy or tower defense titles, although if you’re going to pick this up, you’re probably better off shelling out for the Steam version rather than for the port. At the time of writing, the lower price point isn’t enough of an argument to choose the inferior version, though that may change with an update or two down the line.

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Rating: 8.0/10 (1 vote cast)
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Defend the Rook - Review, 8.0 out of 10 based on 1 rating

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