Less a true sequel and more a big upgrade, Kingdom Rush Frontiers improves on just about everything that made the original game so endearing. Ironhide Studios’ hilarious follow-up to their blockbuster original tower defense classic doesn’t break the mold so much as refines it, offering up a smoother and more compelling experience that should keep even those burnt out on the genre grinning from ear to ear.
The basics of Kingdom Rush – and TD gaming in general – remain intact: you’re tasked with surviving waves of enemy attacks by strategically placing towers in predetermined spots along colorful maps of twisty roads, marshes, and other hazards. Killing attackers earns small amounts of gold, which can be used to purchase more towers, upgrades, or special attacks when available. A finite number of hearts signals how many baddies can break through your defenses, and when the counter reaches zero it’s game-over.
Killing enemies and finishing levels also earns Gems, which can be spent on helpful one-use items like extra hearts, atomic bombs, or even extra gold if grinding isn’t your thing. These can be especially helpful when trying to survive some of the game’s frustratingly difficult later levels, which flood the screen with so many attackers that Zerg rushes look pale in comparison.
As in the original game there are four basic tower types at your disposal: archers, soldiers, magic, and artillery blasters, each fully upgradeable to increase their power, range, and even secondary abilities for maximum destruction against the hordes.
Where strategy comes into play is guessing, either intelligently or with blind luck, which towers will be most effective against the incoming assaulters. Certain enemies have natural defenses against arrows or magic, while others – especially the gigantic bosses – can only be vanquished with good old-fashioned pummelling and surviving. And that’s the key to finishing Kingdom Rush – the surviving, and few things are as rage-inducing than having a tense half-four session blow up in your face.
One of the cooler upgrades is that Mage Towers can become Necromancer towers, which help create swarms of adorable undead defenders. Artillery towers can now upgrade to biped mobile units that can unleash massive bombing raids while archer towers can upgrade to some serious machine-gun firepower in a pinch. The soldier barracks, unfortunately, remain the least-useful tower in this update.
An interesting addition to the levels is that they’re now quasi-interactive, for both defenders and attackers. Attackers will slash through shrubbery without mercy, creating new paths and occasionally revealing new tower placements in their wake. There’s even help in the backdrops, if you can spot them, as sidelined attacks can add some much-needed firepower assistance for the right price.
The original Kingdom Rush looked great but Frontiers looks amazing. Sure, the quirky art style and bizarre genre-bending character designs haven’t changed all that much, but there’s just so much more of it. A host of new genre-spanning heroes and enemies sprint across deeper and vastly more detailed backdrops, many of which feature animated critters and other cool stuff that’s just fun to take in.
Even better is the astounding audio – a treasure trove of funny samples amidst a rousing and surprisingly epic soundtrack that demands you crank the volume to 11 (or wear headphones to fully enjoy). It’s pretty clear the talent at Ironside are big fans of Blizzard and have no issues adopting the same pop-culture laden and often random vocal cries from the game’s denizens (“Hail to the King, Baby!”), or minute details like when a hero’s roaring bull horn calls in a herd of stampeding rhinos. It just works, and it’s pretty awesome.
When I saw the giant gorilla being led by a banana-on-a-stick or heard cries of “Want Some! Get Some!” I couldn’t help but smile. I love games with a sense of humor and few are so unapologetically silly as Kingdom Rush.
Sadly, this isn’t a universal app, meaning you’ll have to pony up twice if you want to put Frontiers on every iDevice you own. If you have to choose just one, however, go with the bigger, richer and more controllable iPad version.
While there’s more than enough game in the standard version for most players not every feature is accessible by simply plowing through the campaign, like the nine customizable heroes, some of whom require extra cash to unlock. I’ll admit some look pretty nice, like the dragon Ashbite, but them’s the breaks with so many of these games. As the standard game doesn’t require nor does it obscure the screen with invasive IAP it’s an acceptable compromise, especially if paying extra isn’t your thing.
Kingdom Rush Frontiers may not break the mold, but it’s still a big improvement over the original game, ironing out many of its most pressing issues while offering up one of the most enjoyable tower defense games yet. Non-Apple users fear not – while this review was based on the iOS versions I’m fairly confident that the game will soon appear on any platform that would have it. Snatch a copy when you can, as it’s probably the best tower-defense game out there right now, and unquestionably the funniest.
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Ironhide Game Studio