A classic example of tower defense, Kingdom Rush combines elements of old and new, with enough of a contrast to be unique. Essentially, you must command your personal troupe of wizards, archers, bombardiers, “heroes,” and militia to stave off an invading hoard of Peter Jackson slashfic: orcs and ghouls and goblins and worgs and trolls, oh my!
You have command of only four basic towers, but each set includes a wide range of unlockable upgrades and enhancements. For example, the archer tower can be upgraded to musketeers after three “purchases” (you collect gold by killing enemies). The same goes for the other towers, and from there each tower offers a slew of new weapons, enhancements, and other orc-ravaging goodies. There are also two replenishable powers at your command: the first is a couple of extremely weak reinforcements—two hapless, sword-wielding chaps that are intended more so to slow down enemies than actually deal damage. There is also a satisfyingly powerful meteor strike, which offers a devastating rain of fiery goodness from the heavens, but the speed at which this power is replenished is very slow, so you must choose the option wisely.
As expected, each level features a different kingdom to defend, as well as new maps, tower layouts, and enemies. At first the gameplay seems a tad repetitive and devoid of strategy, but once you get into the upgrades and the levels become harder, the strategy element comes into play—as does its addictive nature.
The thing about iPhone games is that there aren’t really buttons, per se. Everything from the placement of reinforcements to tower selection is on-screen and touch-based. We did notice a few responsiveness concerns—mainly in terms of selecting towers—but this could have been a hardware slip or a design issue.
We didn’t even realize we were on the final level until the presumable final boss appeared, and then when the credits began rolling we were like, “WTF mate?” The game itself is not exactly easy, but it did seem a bit short. What’s worse, there aren’t a whole lot of extra features and gameplay expansions to retain your attention. We don’t imagine you’ll stop playing entirely, but the overall lasting appeal is fairly minimal.
Most of the replay value is in the few unlockable objects—which include three additional levels, gameplay challenges for each stage, and the recently added “heroes,” which are powerful fighters with varying skillsets that can be used during gameplay. We were hoping for a bit more, but since the game is also available online and through the iPad (not to mention, it’s really popular) we expect Armor will add to the franchise in due time. Or else…
Everything about Kingdom Rush is fast-paced, as any tower defense game should be. Unfortunately, the game is also quick from start to finish; just when we felt like we got the hang of the basic strategy elements, it was over. Denied!
That being said, the pace of incoming enemies demands a significant level of strategy to handle—at least more so than other recent tower defense franchises, such as Plants vs. Zombies or Spice Invaders.
AI—both for enemies and your towers—is not a huge factor, but there is a reliability issue. For instance, towers tend to focus their attacks on the enemies that are closest to the gate. But according to military tactics 101, that’s not necessarily the best strategy. Some enemies are slow but also really powerful and difficult to kill, and because you can’t control which buggers your towers target, the really big guys sometimes traipse along unscathed. And then you die. And that’s a little annoying but nothing too serious.
Basically, there’s some sort of nefarious wizard who’s wreaking havoc in some mystical land of trolls and goblins. It doesn’t really matter; the point of the game isn’t to become immersed in some elaborate fantasy land, it’s to kill some orcs. Why get dragged down by details?
Kingdom Rush is not as cute as Angry Birds or Plants vs. Zombies, but there’s definitely a subtle yet tasteful sense of humor. And most of it comes through in the art and sound design.
Like most tower defense games, all gameplay is conducted through a bird’s eye view, but you also have the ability to zoom in and out, offering a closer view of the enemy and tower designs. Some gamers may find themselves wishing for a closer view, but we can also see why that wouldn’t be practical, especially in the bigger levels with larger hoards of incoming enemies.
In all, we really liked the game’s visuals. There was a satisfying amount of violence (subdued splattering of blood and green gook), yet it was all tinged with a subtle amount of humor and lightheartedness. The characters may not be as iconic or recognizable as the Angry Birds, but it’s a very different kind of game.
The graphics are intentionally light and playful—nothing to overwhelm iOS. But given the game’s brevity, we were hoping for a little more detail; everything is depicted through a static overhead view, which is fine given the style of gameplay, but there could have been more.
The music was repetitive but surprisingly good—or rather, appropriate. It added a level of suspense that’s often missing from iOS games, so if you’re into that extra “impact” of a tension-building orchestral score, you’ll enjoy the music in Kingdom Rush.
Playing the game on mute just doesn’t have the same impact. We enjoyed the pleasing boom of explosions or the tinny whooshing of magic spells. It all gave an extra degree of immersion. And how can we forget the vocal sound bites that cue over a new tower purchase or upgrade? Our favorite of these was the artillery tower, which is apparently manned by a drunken Scottish stereotype.
While it’s not the longest or most in-depth game around, Kingdom Rush offers enough versatility, strategy, difficulty, and lightheartedness to engage both casual and hardcore gamers alike. And the recent addition of three new levels—not to mention the heroes feature—adds another level of replay value. In the end, though, the game still feels somewhat limited, even for an iOS title. We just lost interest after reaching 100 percent completion.
Meet the tester
Tyler Wells Lynch
Tyler Wells Lynch is a freelance writer and journalist whose work has appeared in Vice, Wirecutter, Gizmodo, The Rumpus, Yes!, and the Huffington Post, among others. He lives in Maine.
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