If there’s anything that truly separates Kingdom Rush from the growing number of fixed-path tower defense offerings, it’s the game’s look. Ironhide Game Studio’s reinvention of this well-worn wheel features cartoon-cute bandits and trolls traipsing across colorful forest clearings and snowy mountain paths, while your equally charming towers and infantry do their best to keep them from their destination. The game might start off with plain old goblins going up against plain old arrow-shooting towers, but as the game progresses, cannonballs and lighting bolts rain down upon magma monsters, necromancers, yetis, demon dogs, and many other villainous creatures. The variety of baddies and towers is nothing new, but the way this variety is presented to the player is what’s key here.
There’s a backstory involving (of course) a kingdom being assaulted by (of course) the forces of darkness, though actually knowing that the Silveroak Forest and the Forsaken Valley are being overrun by the minions of Dread Wizard Vez’Nan won’t necessarily enhance the Kingdom Rush experience. The most important thing you need to know before playing is that there are twelve maps, and you need to complete one in order to unlock the next. After you complete each stage in Campaign Mode, you’re awarded stars based on the number of survivors (out of the customary 20) that remain. Those stars allow you to permanently upgrade attributes of your towers or your ancillary defenses. There are also two other modes of play available per stage once you’ve completed Campaign Mode, each forcing you to survive either multiple waves or one large tsunami with only one life to lose, along with other tower-related limitations. (For those hoping to get a quick start, or those with a gotta-catch-em-all mindset, you can earn two quick stars by liking / following the game on Facebook and Twitter.)
Tower-wise, there’s the usual assortment of offerings, though they’re not available right from the start; they’re unveiled to the player as progress is made through Campaign Mode, dovetailing nicely with each level’s difficulty. There are quick-shooting towers that don’t do much damage per shot (Archers), heavy-hitting slow-firing types (Dwarven Bombardment), and the well-rounded tower (Mages), each with their own special kind of damage that certain bad guys are susceptible or resistant to. There’s also a Barracks unit, which spits out a trio of actual soldiers that go mano-y-mano with the oncoming hoards. Thankfully, while the enemies’ path is predetermined, the game allows you to position your Barracks soldiers (within range of the Barracks) so that you can best optimize their meat-shieldiness. Kingdom Rush also gives players two non-tower weapons during each stage: a powerful meteor shower that can target any portion of the map (and takes longer than you’d hope to recharge), and two temporary soldiers / portable meat shields that can be deployed in a similar fashion.
One interesting wrinkle Kingdom Rush offers is in the in-game tower upgrades. After you buff up a tower three times with the money you made killing dudes, you’re given two choices for the fourth upgrade, each with two unique and upgradeable abilities. Archer towers, for instance, can become either a big leafy Rangers Hideout (with souped-up archers to match), or a sniper roost for Musketeers (with matching tri-cornerned hats, of course). This in-tower optimization is where the true strategy for Kingdom Rush comes in; not only do you need to find where a tower will best work against the monsters, but you need to decide how to use that tower. Do you want your Mages to zap oncoming baddies with a purple Death Ray and random teleportation spells, or would you rather have an orange Sorcerer summon an elemental and polymorph powerful ogres into sheep? Do you use a Barracks simply as low-level interference, or do you spend the cash to create two-fisted ax-throwing Barbarians? Do you want your fully-upgraded Dwarven Bombardment tower to deploy bombing runs, shoot homing missiles, or both? Despite Kingdom Rush offering “Normal” as its highest difficulty level, there will be plenty of opportunity on later levels to weigh these and other questions as the supposedly “normal” grow in size, strength, and frequency. And while the frustration level with such unending onslaughts might also increase, the genial presentation of these evil-doers keeps Kingdom Rush from wearing out its warm welcome.
David Raposa has written about various things for Pitchfork, The
Village Voice, Kill Screen Magazine, eMusic, and elsewhere. He also
writes on Twitter: @falsebinary