This review is based on the iPhone and iPad versions of the game.
Tower defense games aren’t for everyone, but they can scratch the itch to defeat huge throngs of enemies in a simple gameplay format. The genre works best when it can successfully define deceptively simple choices that combine to create complex and often exciting group effects to turn back the enemy hordes.
Kingdom Rush offered a graphically unique, tightly controlled and addictive spin on the formula a few years back, and its sequel Kingdom Rush Frontiers refines the winning gameplay even further. At its core, you still have the choice between 4 types of towers: archers which attack at a high rate of fire, mage which deals high magic damage and armor penetration, bombard with a variety of artillery or group effect attacks and a militia which deploys a trio of soldiers from a barracks. Where it gets interesting is in the specializations where you can pick dynamic new abilities, such as the Necromancer which spawns friendly skeletons from enemy kills and the DWAARP! which combines an earth shattering earthquake attack with fire and an instant kill underground drill. These effects must be layered to defeat the increasingly challenging waves of enemies, leading to some really cool scenarios: there’s nowhere else where you can march out a line of assassins and heavy Templar troops, backed by a pack of mechanical battle units armed with homing missiles…!
As powerful as these towers can be, they represent a toning down of the previous generation of tower abilities from the original game. You can no longer indefinitely stall huge hordes of foes with a succession of grappling vines and reverse teleports or annihilate a group of enemies with layers of lightning: the team at Ironhide have dramatically reworked the options for Frontiers to lean slightly more towards damaging than delaying. This gives the game a faster and more enjoyable feel, with less stalling required to defeat a level (especially the more challenging Heroic and Iron versions). The purchasable in-game aids added post-release in the original game are back, and crystals earned in combat can be used for perks such as extra starting gold and a temporary freeze in the heat of combat as needed. I made a deliberate choice not to use these in the original that had carried over to Frontiers, so I can verify that they are not required to win.
The controls feel more responsive, which seems like the result of slightly expanding the detection boxes of tower upgrade options. The higher contrast colour palette and more clearly defined lines of the level types also help with the clarity of vision, as well as generally providing a more interesting environment and distinctive visual aesthetic compared to the original game.
This is especially useful for controlling your hero, a single avatar that can roam the battlefield as a mobile damage dealing and crowd controlling ally. There are a wide range of heroes from sword swinging soldiers to spellcasters and ranged archers, but the majority of them are locked as downloadable content (which in this case is simply an on-device unlock). The good news is that the free core heroes can actually be the most effective on the battleground, but it would be a shame if more players do not get to experience the other choices. I purchased most of the locked heroes to satisfy my curiosity, and they do add some fun twists to Frontiers: the most elaborate one is a flying, fire breathing red dragon that literally costs more than the game (!!!) as of this review, who is amazing to watch as it swoops back and forth to alternately billow smoke, devour and breath explosive fire across the world.
Kingdom Rush Frontiers is clearly an evolutionary product with many similarities and ties to its predecessor, but it continues to play and feel remarkably good. It keeps the fun vibe and addictive gameplay of the original while making slight tweaks to remove repetitive elements, speed up gameplay and add challenge through new strategic options. I have spent easily 50+ hours between the iPhone and iPad versions and earned every achievement in both platforms, and still find myself constantly coming back for more. This is a must buy for all tower defense enthusiasts, and rates as one of my favourite games of the year to date.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars