It wasn’t too long ago that the original Kingdom Rush debuted on Xbox, some twelve years after its mobile release, but Ironhide Game Studio are back with another instalment. First seen in 2013, Kingdom Rush Frontiers rocks up with a promise of being a devilishly addictive tower defense game.
Is Kingdom Rush Frontiers a solid enough offering to withstand the test of time, or will it crumble to the ground with outdated ideas and graphics?
Kingdom Rush Frontiers actually holds up very well, however there are a couple of frustrating issues to bear in mind.
The General’s (that’s you) services are required to protect the capital city of Linirea, with evil forces launching an attack on Hammerhold – a fortress. Unfortunately, the efforts of you and the army of troops are futile. In the midst of battle, the devious Lord Malagar has snuck in and stolen the mighty Hammer of Ages. The best course of action to retrieve it is to follow him back to his lair, through the desert, into the jungle and eventually a dark labyrinth of caverns. Obviously, as is the nature of the game, you must defend numerous outposts along the way.
That’s the general gist of the main campaign in Kingdom Rush Frontiers, with short text descriptions before each level and, on a few occasions, a comic book style storyboard. It’s decent enough to set the scene and the artwork is pretty good, but the real draw is in the gameplay.
There are fifteen levels initially, with seven bonus levels becoming available upon completion of the campaign. Played out from an almost top-down viewpoint, you’re given the responsibility of spending gold to erect towers. The aim is to survive waves and prevent enemies sneaking past the defences, in order for you to achieve up to three stars in each level. If any nefarious characters manage to get through then your HP will be depleted somewhat; should the HP reach zero, you’ve failed, it’s as simple as that.
Let’s get one of Kingdom Rush Frontiers’ weakest aspects out in the open straight away – the controls. While the additional support actions are assigned to simple button/directional presses, selecting and purchasing towers is awkward as hell. Trying to use the analog stick to highlight the empty construction plot you wish to build on is tricky. The controls feel too sensitive and it’s easy to pass-over the chosen interaction point. That is not ideal when battle commences, panic sets in and not only did you select the wrong tower to build, but you just sold another for a loss.
Putting that aside though, it’s great to see some ingenuity in regards to the towers. The basic tower types make use of archers, magic, artillery and a barracks for melee troops, which is absolutely fine. Every tower can be upgraded to level four, where the awesome advanced options arise and branch out with further special abilities. The barracks evolve into either an Assassin’s Guild or a Knight’s Templar, while the artillery eventually becomes a quake-inducing DWAARP mining machine or a beasty big boy Battle-Mecha T200. The fact you can scorch the earth with the DWAARP, improve the assassins’ chances of thieving, and slow enemies with oil, are just a few reasons why the towers are ace.
Even with all that power at your behest, don’t expect an easy ride as Kingdom Rush Frontiers is damn tough. The so-called casual difficulty is ridiculous, with failure always looming over your head. Occasionally the map gets altered mid-level too, creating an additional route for baddies to infiltrate your defences. It’s super mean.
That said, there’s a lot of focus on knowing thy enemy and ensuring you have a good mix of towers in opportune locations. For example, troops on the ground are useless against flying wasps, and so archers are required. Meanwhile, those soldiers could do a job of slowing down groups as the artillery lays down a barrage of AoE damage. I like the challenge of adapting to the many different foes faced, but some enemies are overpowered such as the Sand Wraith spawning armies and the Blood Tricksters who bring slain tribesmen, which can be overwhelming.
The variety of enemies is superb though, as you’re constantly introduced to new creatures and discovering how they’ll ruin your life like the aforementioned pests. I’m talking about shamans, raiders, jungle spiders, teleporting Saurian reptiles, scorpions, and angry apes. Thankfully, give or take a couple of similar tribesmen, their designs have unique enough features to enable you to spot which are causing you trouble. You definitely won’t mistake the bosses for anything else; they’re massive and have neat tricks up their sleeve.
In order to give you a bit more hope, there’s some support in the form of reinforcement troops and a meteor shower that have cooldowns. When all else lets you down, you’re lucky to have heroes on-hand to be the last-line of defence too. Even though you can only assign one hero at a time to join the adventure, they’re very useful when levelled-up due to the special abilities they possess. With a whopping sixteen to unlock, there’s bound to be one who’s a perfect match whether it’s the stone giant Grawl, the priestess Deidre, or the trust champion Alric.
As for the actual maps, the layouts deserve credit first and foremost, ensuring no setup feels the same in any level. You are always kept on your toes with multiple points of entry to pay attention to. To make things even more exciting, environmental interference can occur on maps, including giant worms emerging to decimate friends and foes alike, and carnivorous plants gobbling up those getting too close.
Should you actually possess the mental fortitude to gather the three stars on every level, there’s a bit of extra replayability. A further two stars become available for each as a result of Iron and Heroic stages. What these do is pose challenges such as removing the use of heroes and limiting the tower types at your disposal. It’s worth attempting because the stars are handy for permanently upgrading the meteor shower, the reinforcements and certain aspects of towers.
Kingdom Rush Frontiers builds a gaming stronghold worthy of defending the honour of the tower defense genre, but there are a couple of weak spots. The strategic elements ensure a real challenge is to be had as you get to grips with the many enemy waves heading your way. Map designs play an important role in making each level exciting, which is complemented by cool tower types and cleverly planned placement points, thus creating erection perfection. It’s a shame then that the over-sensitive controls on Xbox bring about as much suffering as the overpowered enemies.
Still, Kingdom Rush Frontiers is well worth the asking price, so gather your army and prepare to defend the kingdom at once!
You can purchase Kingdom Rush Frontiers via the Xbox Store