Tower Defense games get such a bad rap. A chief complaint I’ve heard over the years is that most tend to be too passive, too simple. All you need to do is put down a tower and let the game do everything else. Where’s the fun in that? What’s funny is these are the exact reasons why I love them. They’re not all created equal, however. Some can lean heavily on in-app purchases; making it harder for you to pass stages unless you pay the game’s extortion fee. Sometimes the games are just bad.
I can list a few successful tower defense games I’ve enjoyed over the years but one company stands out with having created some of the best: Ironhide Studios, famed for their outstanding series of Kingdom Rush and Iron Marines are back with Kingdom Rush Vengeance, which turns not just the genre on its head, but the whole concept of good vs. evil.
That’s right – the old morality switcheroo. This time you’re the bad guys, led by the nefarious wizard Vez’nan and his endless supply of minions. You still have your basic tower types at the ready: artillery, ranged, magic and troops, adding a devilishly fun “evil” bent to them. You start out with the classic towers, gradually unlocking more as you lay waste to the hordes foolish enough to try stopping your evil conquest. Waves and waves (and more waves still) of hapless enemies will meet their doom as you defend against their relentless onslaught – by any means necessary!
Generally, Vengeance doesn’t break the tower defense mold – or even attempt to. Instead, it delivers a finely nuanced slice of tower defense excitement with all the refinement you’d expect from Ironside.
The general ramp up of difficulty in each level is metered in such a way that you’ll become part of the game’s irresistible flow, surviving – and defeating – the oncoming waves relentlessly being thrown your way. Even still, there were times when restarting a match was necessary due to a sudden, overwhelming rush of unexpected enemies breaking through my defenses. Restarts and groans aside, I still found it fun and exciting to go back into the same levels over and over to attempt getting a three-star rating on each one. Be forewarned: doing so can become addictive.
The generous number of maps are varied but can often feel familiar since there’s only a few ways that you can make roads. But even when you find yourself saying “didn’t I play a layout similar to this last time?” the game manages to find new ways to throw a curveball by adding a mid-stage alteration that can often lead to adjust on the fly to make sure you can handle the situation. Or not, because you’ll die…a lot. But that’s part of the fun!
The game supports cloud saves, which is handy if you’re swapping between devices like I was (iPhone + iPad combo here), and will automatically alert you there’s a newer save online. The game does a great job managing these current saves, meaning I never felt like any progress was lost or in danger of going down the memory hole. I’ve experienced cloud saving elsewhere, like on bigger consoles, but it felt streamlined and consistently natural here – a big deal when you’re gaming on the go.
For real currency, you’re able to buy powerful new heroes, towers, and items to help you along your journey…but I found myself ignoring them. While some of the towers seem really neat, and I’d love to have them, it’s hard to justify spending the extra money. The base game is $4.99 alone, and asking fans to pony up an additional $6.99 for a single tower adds up quickly. In fact, purchasing all those heroes and towers will run you over $50 – plus tax! While those practices are all the rage these days, it feels less predatory here as you can safely ignore them.
If you’re a fan of previous entries than you’ll know what to expect from the game’s artwork – amazing! Everything in Vengeance seems lovingly created, with razor-sharp illustrations and all the brightly colored friends and foes alike animated nicely on your screen. One of my favorite features – those Easter eggs – are back, peppered throughout each level just waiting for you to click and activate them. They’re hilarious, as always, and never afraid to break the fourth-wall to make you laugh. Likewise, sound design – including the series’ penchant for funny vocals – is alive and present here as well; just make sure you poke any and everything you see.
Kingdom Rush Vengeance may be Ironhide’s best game to date, which is saying a lot. It’s also one of the best tower defense games I’ve ever played, with gorgeous artwork, hilarious sounds, beautiful maps and irresistible gameplay that’s helped make this series so beloved. It doesn’t break any molds – but did it really have to? Those in-app purchases sting a little bit, but even these are optional bumps on an otherwise entertaining road to tower defense heaven. This one comes highly recommended, especially if you love telling evil things to shoot good things.