I’m Jay, and I am a tower defense addict. Back in my teenage, play-flash-games-in-my-spare-time years, I had a bit of an addiction to a really basic game called Defend Your Castle. It wasn’t super flashy, but it involved tossing stick figures off the screen and setting up defensive structures before they could attack your castle. Since then, I’ve played a few mobile installments of the genre, but none have really caught my attention. That is, until the Kingdom Rush series.
This particular review is for the second iteration, Kingdom Rush: Frontiers. So, while the games’ premises are pretty much the same, my description deals with the sequel. If you’ve never played a tower defense game, then climb out from under your rock and give it a try. You play an omniscient overseer much like in RTS games and control a “kingdom.” You generally have a central point to defend from droves of slowly oncoming enemies inching their way toward that point. You’re tasked with setting up structures, towers and outposts around the area, each of which have different strengths and powers to defend what is essentially your castle.
In Frontiers, these towers are broken out into four categories: barracks (spawning physical troops to defend the paths), archery posts (shooting small-damage arrows at enemies), mage towers (blasting slow, high-damage spell bursts) and siege outposts (launching massive, explosive attacks at ground surface area). To spice this up, the game also gives players the option of calling in additional soldier reinforcements as well as literally raining fire on your enemies—a particularly guilty pleasure of mine. Finally, during each stage, you have a “hero” at your control that is, essentially, a super strong, super resilient on-field soldier for added support.
While those are the particular nuts and bolts, what make the game interesting are its upgrades and powers. As you clear stages, you earn money and stars. Stars are used to improve your tower capabilities (i.e. increasing your archers’ range or your mages’ attack power) while coins are used to construct physical structures and upgrade them in-level. So, at it’s most simplistic, the only real task you have in the game is setting up strategic defensive points to maximize damage radii and block enemies from reaching the end of the path. Early levels feel really easy (almost to the point of boredom), while later levels up the ante, throwing more enemies, stronger soldier types and endlessly frustrating boss figures. That’s pretty much it. Simple, right? Well, there’s a bit more to it.
As I alluded earlier with my 12-step-program-esque first sentence, this genre lends itself pretty handily to hours and hours of addictive gameplay. These games with simple concepts tend to do that. You can wrap your head around the level-to-level mechanics really easily, so upgrading towers, earning new hero characters and completing seemingly endless levels has a strange degree of satisfaction to it. You feel a little like a proud parent when you upgrade an archery tower to its biggest range, strongest damage and fastest rate of fire. So, while the storyline itself (told through text-based asides between form-fit levels) seems a little “tacked on,” the upgradeable RPG-isms of the game provide players with a satisfying sense of long-term accomplishment.
Let’s talk looks. In short, the game is pretty. While it lives somewhere between aerial 2D and hawk’s-eye 3D, the color scheme is vibrant and crisp. The graphics themselves are a little cartoonish, but they’re well done and ultimately convey a warm, nostalgic vibe. I played the game primarily on a mid-level tablet that doesn’t have the best graphics processor. But somehow, I was still able to get lost in the visuals—no easy feat for a simple android tower defense design.
Some of Frontiers’ more cumbersome aspects fall under the “tap controls” category. The general scheme is to tap empty zones to build towers. You select the tower type and then confirm it. From there, you tap the towers again to upgrade them or sell them. You can also direct your firestorm and reinforcement abilities to specific areas of the screen by tapping on those desired spots on the map. The problem is that the tap-to-target functionality isn’t as responsive and accurate as it should be. Far too often, I found myself finger-mashing my table as I tried to get some small spot on the screen to register. This was particularly difficult when attempting to select Frontiers’ tiny hero figures. My fingers are on the stubby side, so that could have had something to do with it. But frustration abounded nonetheless.
All in all, with the exception of some occasionally clunky controls, the game hits all the right notes. It’s colorful, satisfying, addictive and simple to play in short bursts. You’ll find it just as easy to sink in several hours as you will to pick it up for 15 minutes during a lunch break. The tower defense concept is tried and true, and I’ve finally found a way to bring my addiction with me on my tablet. And that, just for today, works for me. Keep coming back.
A vibrant, medieval tower defense game with ownable upgrades, dynamic outpost options and a serious sense of RPG achievement.