Earlier this fall, I had a chance to sit down with Trollhunters actor extraordinaire Charlie Saxton to play a little bit of the side-scrolling action platformer Trollhunters Defenders of Arcadia. More recently, I got my hands on the final build of the game for the Nintendo Switch, the only current-gen system that offers a handheld option on which to play your favorite games. And it’s a great way to experience the game, a modern title that features gorgeous artwork from the contemporary Trollhunters: Tales of Arcadia series while also feeling like a classic throwback to OG side-scrollers. But it’s also very much for fans of the franchise, even as it’s a very solid action game on its own merits.
Trollhunters Defenders of Arcadia allows players to take on goblins, Gumm-Gumms, and more as Jim Lake Jr., alongside Claire, Toby, Merlin, and the entire cast of your favorites from the hit franchise. Hailing from developer WayForward and published by Outright Games with distribution via Bandai Namco Entertainment, the new side-scrolling action-platformer takes place after the events of 3Below and just before the events of Wizards, the most recent Tales of Arcadia story to hit Netflix. The game functions as both a new story for those of you who are caught up on all the animated series action and another chapter in the Tales of Arcadia saga before everything’s wrapped up in next year’s feature film, Trollhunters: Rise of the Titans. Here’s what makes Trollhunters Defenders of Arcadia worth checking out.
Without giving too awful much away, here’s the official synopsis:
Jim, the first human Trollhunter, must battle old foes in order to correct the timeline which has been changed by Porgon, a trickster troll who has got hold of a Dekyon Charger (Arkiridion tech) that can create time loops/rifts and uses this to lure Jim into a trap. With help from his friends and Merlin, a powerful wizard, Jim must fight to stop evil rising-up once again. Jim will face formidable enemies including Angor Rot, Gunmar, Porgon and Morgana as well as their evil minions to save the world from a terrible fate.
You can probably tell a few things from that synopsis alone: Trollhunters Defenders of Arcadia does a bang-up job of factoring in just about everything they can from the many episodes and stories of Guillermo del Toro‘s Tales of Arcadia. There are nods to fan-favorite characters and storylines, plenty of fun Easter eggs scattered throughout the game, and the added touch of getting the core cast to voice their own characters; it really is a love letter to fans … for the most part.
The story of Trollhunters Defenders of Arcadia is a unique and self-contained one. It sees Jim acting outside of his normal timeline in order to deal with Porgon the pirate troll and his time-loop magic. This allows the game to exist outside of Tales of Arcadia and inside its wholly unique and original world at the same time; a pretty clever decision that. It also allows for many characters past, present, and future to fold into the story and roll back out of it again without messing up any continuity (for long). It’s all in good fun, and fun is what this game aims for.
The hack-and-slash combat stylings of Jim, the titular hero, are quite solid and as fun to play as they are easy to master. But the game keeps adding new tech and skills to your character as you progress; it’s not really an RPG at all, but RPG-lite, like old-school side-scrollers where you’d buy gear that’s the next level up to increase your DEF/ATK stats, while also taking on sub-quests and side-quests from NPC characters. Your basic blade attacks soon get a bit of range and multi-hit ability with the glaive, while your basic jump gets some added boost thanks to a dash and a glide. But you’ll have to best baddies, bosses, and dangerous levels in order to progress to a point where you can unlock those skills. And you’ll need them all to survive the many and diverse (and treacherous) levels throughout the game.
However, you’ll also need those skills to compete in mini-games, like “Get the Coins!”, a coin-collecting side game activated by petting Luug the dog while in Trollmarket. These one-off levels are great ways to practice newly earned skills and figure out interesting ways to combo them. You won’t need them as much in the Go Go Sushi mini-game, or the Gnome-Throwing challenge, but the extra bonus content here is a charming add-on to the game (even if my favorite “game” is finding all the Gnome Chompskys scattered throughout each level). And if it’s all feeling a little too easy for you — I breezed through a playthrough in just a few hours — you might want to bump the difficulty up to Troll level. (And good luck on the first boss, which is easily the most difficult in the entire game.)
But some aspects of the game are downright troll-y. Some hitboxes of both enemies and one-hit-kill structures throughout the game are laughably large; to be totally fair, sometimes they’re laughably small, allowing Jim to scoot right under some dive-bombing beasts or ground-pounding trolls without taking a hit. While playing on the handheld Switch was certainly convenient and added some nostalgia factor to the throwback feel, the relatively small screen sure made it difficult to spot the red blood goblins as they scampered across the ground (and the ceiling), dealing more damage per pound than even the biggest and baddest enemies in the game. That’s all well and good, but the biggest oversight in the game was the sidelining of Claire, who never gets to be a summonable ally (even Angor Rot gets to do this!), get a mini-game of her own, or even join you in battle at all; she’s off doing her own thing the whole time, except to tell you about the time you lost your missing flour-bag baby, Petunia. I get that the devs had to make room for just about everyone else in the game, and I get that Claire was literally off doing other things within the Tales of Arcadia story structure, it just feels like a missed opportunity to not give players a chance to interact with her a bit more.
Overall, Trollhunters Defenders of Arcadia is a short and sweet game with just a hint of replayability for those of you who want the extra Troll challenge or to max out on every available purchased item in the game. It’s tailormade for fans of the franchise, especially younger ones. So even though some fans may have expected a fully rendered 3D environment RGP for their favorite Trollhunters, the side-scrolling action-platformer game is still a worthy entry in the Tales of Arcadia, and one I’d encourage checking out, if only by the truly dedicated fans out there.
Trollhunters Defenders of Arcadia, DreamWorks, Wayforward, and Outright Games, is available for the PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC now!