Because I was abducted by a wizard riding a griffin and imprisoned in a magical cave for the last five years, I didn’t play the first two Kingdom Rush games (that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it, dammit!). I must say that up until this week I wasn’t too bothered about this: ‘Pshaw,’ I thought, straining at the bonds of my ethereal prison, ‘surely no game so popular can actually be good? Surely the greasy peasants (thinks I, as the wizard’s greasy peasants prodded me with their pitchforks) that normally buy every Android game on earth and award it 5 stars on Google Play just for failing to transfer all their money to an account in the Cayman Islands, or for not laying its eggs in their heads and letting its insectoid young devour them from within, can’t actually be right about anything, can they?’
Well, perhaps they can, because the latest game in the series, Kingdom Rush Origins, is actually pretty great. It may be very similar to the previous Kingdom Rush games (having compared notes with some rather dedicated fans of the first two games on YouTube I can safely say that it does appear very, very similar), but this doesn’t change the fact that its brand of tower defense is one that works. For someone coming afresh to the series (curse you, wizard! And your greasy peasants!) I can really appreciate why this game has such a following among casual and hardcore players alike. First up, it’s a looker. The art for this game is about as lovely as you could hope to see packed into the 7-10 inches of a tablet screen; while it’s not perhaps as conceptually rich or provoking as something you’d spend hours ogling in the Louvre, it’s still tremendously handsome, and every map and environment is awash with lovely details. I think one of the moments I realized how far this game stood out above its competitors was when, in one of the early levels, occasional objects would come floating down the river in the middle of the map – and when I tapped them I would be rewarded with a cutesy little animation, and even an achievement when I stopped enough dwarves going over the waterfall in their little barrels. It’s just gorgeous, and I wanted to give those little wee dwarves a hug.
This attention to detail isn’t just lavished on the game’s surface, though. As a hardcore player (or at least, reviewing this for the benefit of hardcore players) if the gameplay were a stinker I’d be a lot less delighted about the time lavished on the art assets. But the gameplay is rock solid. It is more solid than the biceps of somebody who throws houses into pits of fire for a living. It is almost as awesome as being somebody who throws houses into pits of fire for a living. It really is good: it’s not just that it adds in things like heroes and melee units to direct about the place with judicious tapping, it’s that it uses these and other more familiar tower defense elements to create a system that responds with amazing precision to the player’s decisions. More than this, though, Kingdom Rush: Origins’ variety of enemies, and the number of pointy (or pointy and magical) things you can shove up said enemies’ backsides, is rich enough to create an elaborate system of counters and balances. On harder difficulty settings real thought is needed to ensure that you will have the right sorts of damage, at the right time, and in the right combinations. I found that even on normal difficulty I couldn’t simply breeze through levels using my default ‘hotbox’ strategy (box up the monsters in a small area with slows and soldiers, then lather them in area-of-effect damage). I had to vary my choices of towers, and pick upgrades in response to the precise situation the game threw at me.
The game did have a few curveballs to throw at me, sometimes in ways that caused an almost guaranteed loss: there are a few levels in Kingdom Rush Origins that open up new lanes of attack for the monsters part of the way through, and you need to know about some of them in advance to have any chance of surviving. But the levels themselves are designed to reward multiple playthroughs, so I was comfortable with playing a level through several times in order to get a perfect score. It felt, more than anything, like a nod to the difficulty levels of old-school console games: the game rewards a detailed knowledge of its systems, and isn’t shy about offering a serious challenge in places. A full completion of the game looks like it would need some fairly serious playtime, and I’m enthusiastic about this prospect. Everything about this game is carried off with charm, even humor, which puts a nice bit of candyfloss around the razorblades of its more serious game modes.
I’m even impressed at the implementation of in-app purchases here. You can spend extra money on this game in two ways: first to get gems that unlock bonus items which provide one-off boosts to your progress through a level, and second to unlock new heroes. I never found gems either in short supply or indeed particularly necessary, and I am completely ok with new heroes being offered as what is essentially DLC. There’s no multiplayer, so no pay-to-win, and you just don’t need to spend extra money on this game to progress. It feels like a solid compromise between offering the game at a knock-down price and allowing people to pass more money to the developers.
In short, I enjoyed this game, and I’d go so far as to say it’s one of the finest tower defense games you could buy on Android just now. Ladies and gentlemen, the king has just entered the building. Go play with his kingdom, why don’t you?
Delightfully presented and lovingly drawn, Kingdom Rush Origins’ exterior hides a superb tower defense game of such depth and subtlety that it ranks closely alongside the other games in the series.