Can you have too much Tower Defense? Not if they’re all made like Knights Onrush. I am lucky enough to get to play a lot of games, and consequently, get to play a lot of good games. Then a game comes along and reminds me what a thrill it is to play a great game, and that’s where we are now: on the brink of a review of a truly great game.
Rather than lining a path with towers all defenses are added to the castle. You smash, crush, burn, and mostly flick the knightly little creeps as they try to break down the door. Killing creeps earns you gold which you can use in the shop between waves to purchase weapons and upgrades. Waves are measured in days as you defend the castle against the siege from sunrise to sunset.
Unlike many TD games, each wave typically contains more than one type of the eleven different creeps. From a basic knight to a hidden assassin to the well-armored Titan that will wriggle free from your grip in the air, each attacks in its own way. There are also siege weapons, like a catapult, that in spite of being visibly “unmanned” you can sacrifice. The varying strength of the different creeps will force you to prioritize, like the little guys with kegs of explosives which you want to pick off early, or the magicians that you need to eliminate before they cast their protection spells.
In tandem with gold earned from defeated enemies, you will need to rack up points from sacrifices to purchase many defenses. Sacrifices are, quite simply, hilarious. If the level does not come pre-equipped with a Sacrifice item, you will need to purchase the Hell Gate or a Dragon Altar (or both!), which are then stationed just outside the castle. To achieve a sacrifice by Hell Gate you pluck one of the creeps up and hold him over the grate, depositing him into the fiery depths. A short time later his scorched skeletal remains will be spat back out, and you can send the next creep into the pit. The Dragon Altar is a suspended hook on which you hang creeps for a dragon to swoop down and feast on. The Dragon Altar makes for speedier sacrifices, and therefore costs four times as much as the Hell Gate.
With ample gold and sacrifice points you can build up your arsenal. Cannons, boulders, fireballs, ballistas and columns all come in different sizes and strengths and can be fired and dropped on hoards of creeps. Each of these items equips to the castle, and a circular gage measures its “charging” progress until it is ready to use. No defense is automated so when it becomes active just give it a tap and direct the fire. Each weapon does require a slightly different action; the ballista allows you to aim, the fireball will grow if you drag it around a bit first before swiping it in the enemies’ direction, and the column can be repositioned over a crowd before flicking it downward. Bear in mind, the weapons are handy but the value of a sturdy door cannot be underestimated. As with any good Tower Defense game, there’s a strategic element to purchasing, determining whether you can hold out a few more rounds for a door upgrade or just splurge on a canon and ballista.
Even with this robust artillery possible, you begin most stages with nothing but your finger to nab the creeps and flick them off the screen or quickly down to crush them and leave their broken body in a bloody heap. Of course, a quick flick only knocks them back a few lengths where they hop back up and try again, while a broader swipe will really inflict the damage. Feeling a little too god-like? You can only flick one enemy at a time.
Campaign mode has twelve levels, each with different castles, siege lengths and scenarios. The next castle is unlocked by completing the prior siege, but you can always return to castles. Some of these campaigns are very lengthy siege’s with dozens of rounds, others disallow door upgrades, and some focus on certain types of creep attack patterns. The Endless and Madness game modes will only feed your addiction to Onrush. Survival lets you try you hand at an endless series of rounds with one castle (very similar to Campaign mode), while Madness sends wave after wave of enemies at you in a way that is indeed very mad. Additionally, there are three difficulty levels available, though I advise against being a chicken – start out on normal to get the best sense of your TD talents.
Art in Knights Onrush is fantastic. The tiny little creeps are just cute enough to massacre in that great marriage of cartoon meets gore. Every animation down to the leaping creeps that look like sadistic Santas is a gory delight. The interface is great and even the game’s instructions are worthy of note as they set the tone for the rest of the game. The backgrounds, like forests, deserts and swamps, look great as the siege progresses from dawn til dusk. Icing on the medieval cake is a great score and sounds. With diligent flicking the game delivers a constant chorus of “guh” as creeps are sent off screen, and a slightly more satisfying “guhlluh” when smushed into the dirt. I did run into a small snag when creeps approached from the right: flicking them downward often resulted in accidentally hitting pause. Otherwise, the touch controls are fantastic.
Online leaderboards use the OpenFeint server, which is one of my favorite approaches to the global leaderboard element as it allows for some really great features (like chat) without taking you out of the game. The leaderboards do not track campaign mode, instead focusing on the Endless and Madness modes. However, each siege in Campaign Mode is rated on a five star scale and records your best score. All you need to do is tap the appropriate level shield on the Campaign map to see how you’ve done, and decide whether you are up to the task of besting yourself.
It doesn’t revolutionize the genre and you may even run the risk of writing it off with a batch of the latest tower defense games, but Knights Onrush is a wholly remarkable title that leaves other exercises in TD in its dust. Packing the addiction of a TD game with high production quality, this is a game to get excited about. Seriously, I unequivocally love this game.