Kingdom Rush started as a free-to-play strategy game. I played the flash version and was delighted to discover an HD version in the App Store. It is a traditional and vibrant tower defense game that has it all. Towers, special abilities, upgrades, hard modes, a tower talent tree and plenty of achievements. It has charm by the bucket and the simplistic characteristic tone created by the cartoon visuals, comedic pop-culture reference heavy special effects and medieval themed soundtrack sets just the right tone. Ironhide Game Studio has done a magnificent job creating a must-have title for all tower defense enthusiasts.
Sometimes all you want is a tower defense game that is a tower defense game. Most lack polish and ingenuity and despite the large number of games within the genre, finding the ones worth playing is actually few and far between. This is one of the best tower defense games this year will a level of polish that is exquisitely rare. A great find.
Edge of your seat strategizing
Kingdom Rush is a difficult game and quite often, the last boss in the final wave skirts by your last line of defense with a health bar drenched in red, leaving you with a sense of dread yet great admiration and spirit in tact to try again. I played most of the levels more than once before completing them successfully, but I didn’t even notice the repetition. Strategizing is key and changing even just one tower can make or break the plan. Although difficult, the assistance of upgrades available for purchase with points earned by completing levels can make later levels and hard modes easier if you struggle.
Flexibility and lasting appeal
It’s a game with many guises. You can turn up the instrumental soundtrack and mute the sound effects for a relaxing, medieval style retreat. Or you can mute the sound and play quietly at two in the morning when the rest of the house is asleep. There are three difficulty settings, plenty of upgrade points as well as 50+ achievements to collect and if you get bored of playing, there is an extensive encyclopedia to read.
Upgrades are redistributed without penalty
Upgrades in Kingdom rush are presented like a talent tree. Usually you have to be very careful where you spend points as changing your mind costs you in some way. Except in Kingdom Rush. You can clear your trees, get a full refund of points and design an entirely new build as often as you like with no cost or penalty. This is one of the best features within the game. If you are struggling to complete a level, change which towers you upgrade and it can make all the difference.
No fast forward button
All tower defense games should have a fast forward button, particularly the difficult ones. As much as I enjoy the atmosphere of the game, when I am replaying the same level for the tenth time and have my strategy for the first 18 waves perfected, I would really like to speed up the action.
No play whilst paused
Strategy games play best when players are given the choice to pause whilst placing towers. I love the adrenaline rush when I have to be quick to throw up some towers to prevent enemies from escaping, but allowing me to pause so that I can be precise makes it even better. Adding the options in no way detracts from the game, you are not forced to make use of it, but for anyone with physical accessibility issues, it can make a game playable or not.
Too many pop-culture references
It is a game drenched in fantasy references and although the first one makes me chuckle, at the end of twelve levels, it’s not so funny any more.
There is no flash within the game. The maps are simplistic, the tower effects are satisfying yet without the usual splashy fire and brimstone and it played extremely well.
The camera angle is fixed. Each level is a single-screen map and enemies follow a set path across the screen.
Low Vision and Visual Defects
The User Interface is very well designed with decent size text in the tutorial pop-ups. The statistics window is somewhat on the small side, even on the iPad and the information contained there is the standard fare – health, money and a wave counter. You can make do without it, but it will make strategizing harder if you don’t know how much cash you have. The tower statistics that appear on pop-up is small text as well, but these are much less important and not knowing the exact figures does not detract from game play. The Menu has clear large buttons with little text and there is no dialogue and hence no subtitles.
There is no colour reliance within the game. There is a green circle that appears to indicate a tower’s range and the flash-based version has a red reticule to indicate the range for the Rain of Fire AoE spell, but neither changes colour so the use of colour is insignificant.
Subtitles & Closed captioning
There are no dialogue and no subtitles. The special effects does contribute to the atmosphere of the game, with phrases like “Dodge this!”, “Freedom!”, “For honour and glory!” and these are not subtitled. Phrases are not action specific and are simply there to add to the charm of the game.
Reliance on auditory cues
There is little to no reliance on audio cues. There are special effects, but they are cosmetic.
Sound can be adjusted through two options. An on/off choice for music and an on/off choice for Sound FX.
Tower defense games are based on strategy more than action, but there are crunch points within levels where timing is vital to success. Unfortunately, towers cannot be placed whilst the game is paused. You can pause at any time to strategize. The pause screen is a tiny pause icon across the centre of the screen, allowing you full vision of your map, but you will need at least a moderate reaction time to get your towers in place in time.
Some accuracy is required to play successfully. Towers can only be placed on marked spots and these can be quite small as well as densely packed. The penalty for selling towers can be quite high, so placing a tower in the wrong spot and having to sell and then try again can make the difference between success and failure. The AoE spell Rain of Fire has no reticule on the iOS version and until you upgrade it, its area of effect is very small and a high level of precision is required to make it work well. It is not a game breaker, you can play the early levels without it, but if you are going after the hard modes, you will need to have a much higher level of precision.
The Upgrade menu in the iOS version for some reason requires two taps, one to select the upgrade and a second to apply. If you are redistributing points frequently, this can be problematic. The confirmation button is on the right of the screen and selecting an upgrade then having to move across the screen to confirm, then moving back to select and then moving across to confirm over and over is less than ideal. If your level of precision diminishes with fatigue and your hands are easily fatigued, then this menu will present some difficulty.
The game pauses through a very small pause button and not with a tap anywhere on the screen. Strangely enough, to resume you can tap anywhere on the screen.
You can pause any time, just tap the pause button and the game auto-saves on exit as long as the application remains open. If you close the app, it saves at the end of each map.
It is a touch screen game that does require the ability to tap on specific and sometimes quite small icons. The controls are simple and it can easily be played with one hand. You may need to tap across the screen sometimes, the Upgrades menu requires you to select an upgrade by tapping on it and then also tap on the “Buy Upgrade” button on the right of the screen, but this does not affect game play.
Reading, language and vocabulary
There is very little requirement for language and reading skills. The story is told through a pop-up paragraph at the start of each level, but its an extra and can be skipped. The language used is very simplistic and remain on the screen until the player taps a button to close it. Tutorials are pop-up text, starting with very simple commands like “To battle”, “Start here”, “Skip this” “Next!” and progresses to simple phrases like “Incoming next wave! Tap to call it early”
Minimal reliance on memory. There are four towers, each with two upgrade paths, so effectively eight towers and you need to remember what each of these do. However, the towers are represented by icons that jog your memory; an arrow for archers, a wand for a mage tower, a shield for barracks with soldiers etc. Knowing the weaknesses of enemy units can be helpful in some stages, but there is a complete encyclopedia that can be pulled up from a mid-level pause menu to refresh your memory.
Focus, Organization & Planning
It is a strategy game and a challenging one. Enemies follow a set path and placing your towers strategically can be tricky. A moderate to high level of planning is required and some multi-tasking. If enemies break through your first containment zone, you need to be able to build a second and sometimes juggle the stragglers of the last wave in one area and the first set of the next wave in a different area.
Math and calculations
Little reliance of math and what there is, is simplistic. Towers cost gold and gold is acquired by killing enemy units. You have to manage your resources carefully and plan towards bigger and more expensive upgrades.
It is a single player game with no interaction with other players. There are no significant non-player character interaction. NPC’s are attacking and its your job to wipe them all out as efficiently as possible.
Kingdom Rush is the epitome of tower defense done well. There is a lot of variation in both towers and enemies and focus is very definitely on strategy. The enjoyable style creates levels that can be played again and again and it definitely has that addictive quality that makes me want to replay until you succeed.
It never gets stale, it is never boring and the level of depth, polish, challenge and variety make it an excellent tower defense game. It is also highly accessible except for some small design flaws, such as a small pause button that can make it a little tricky for those with very significant physical impairment. Highly recommended.
[stars rating=”5″ type=”Game”]