If you’ve ever watched a classic movie only to discover that you’ve already seen movies that build on its basic premise in various ways, you have a pretty good sense for how I feel about Kingdom Rush. Basically, it’s a good game – a paradigm example of the tower defense genre. Sadly, the familiar elements of that genre are now so familiar that it’s hard to judge the game on its own merits. For me, that meant it was hard to maintain interest in the game, and I dropped to the easy difficulty for the last couple of levels just to see if it was saving its surprises for the end. Nope.
Kingdom Rush began life as a popular Flash game before Armor Games brought it to iOS, and it exhibits the hallmarks of a game intended to reach a broad, casual audience. The setting is instantly recognizable as generic fantasy. You’re playing right away with a very brief tutorial and gradual increases in complexity thereafter. The aesthetic vision is lighthearted, and the control mechanism is very simple, involving tapping on whatever you want to interact with. All of this makes it an excellent fit for iOS.
The mechanics will be familiar to tower defense veterans: your job is to prevent enemies who arrive in waves from reaching their target. These enemies must follow a pre-set path, along which are locations on which you can build four types of towers with different virtues. You also have two powers with brief refractory periods. You can use these to directly influence the action by either sending in some reinforcement troops to engage in melee combat or drop a few meteors on the heads of your enemies. Kills earn you money you can use to upgrade your towers to inflict more damage, fire farther, cause instant death, etc.
On its own, there’s very little to complain about. The sound effects are annoyingly repetitive and not especially interesting. For example, you use the “send reinforcements” power perhaps every ten seconds, and every time they’ll yell, “Reinforce!” Early missions are nice and short, but later missions get a good deal longer. This exacerbates the problem that the game is largely trial-and-error–you get information about your enemies only one wave in advance, so you’re left with a lot of choices about what to build with very little on which to base that decision. You find out the deficiencies in your arbitrary choice by failing, but there’s no way to save your state within a level. With later levels having upwards of fifteen waves, that learning process can be unpleasantly slow. Level design is lackluster, but there’s not really much you can do with limited space for paths; like my other complaints, it’s not that big an issue.
The real trouble with Kingdom Rush is just that it lacks character. That helps keep it easy to grasp quickly and extraneous crap from getting in the way, but it also leaves the game feeling like it has no identity. In a year or two, if I remember it at all, it’ll be just another tower defense game, perhaps distinguished by its very generic nature. By contrast, games like Anomaly: Warzone Earth and Plants vs. Zombies seem like they’re starting from the same place, but changing some of the mechanics in interesting ways and setting the game in quirky or interesting settings. Part of the joy of progressing in a game of this nature is seeing what the developers have done with the design space – in Kingdom Rush, there just isn’t much of that suspense and sense of discovery, because the genre is familiar enough to most of us that we already know what sorts of things they might be introducing later. The most interesting element in my eyes was a necromancer who could raise skeleton allies. Since the first book without pictures I ever read was Lloyd Alexander’s The High King (yes, I know I started at the end), even that wasn’t exactly groundbreaking.
If you’ve never tried tower defense and you want a great introduction to the genre, Kingdom Rush is perfect. If you’re devoted to the genre and want to play the prominent examples of it, this is absolutely up your street. But if you’ve played one or two prototypical tower defense games and are looking for something new, Kingdom Rush doesn’t have much to offer.
Review copy of the game provided by publisher.