Kingdom Rush: Origins
Few mobile game franchises get me as excited as Kingdom Rush. The childlike fantasy characters hide a sophisticated and intricately balanced tower defense experience that holds up under multiple difficulty settings and supports a variety of play strategies. Ironhide’s new prequel installment maintains that tradition of excellence, with a challenging campaign of smartly designed level layouts and a host of new tower types and enemies. However, unlike the second entry, Origins does little to advance the broader tactical experience. In this instance, more of the same excellent structure is just fine, but returning players are likely to feel like they’re treading familiar ground.
Kingdom Rush doesn’t live and die by its storytelling, but Origins succeeds at finding a new wrinkle in its fantasy world by reaching back to earlier days. In a fantasy world, that usually means a story about elves; players take control of a struggling elven nation under threat by some evil ancient cousins. The elven backdrop offers the opportunity for lots of nature-themed towers and environments, and also ensures Origins is the most aesthetically beautiful game in the series.
Finding the perfect balance between the four main tower types remains the focus, and I like some of the new wrinkles provided by the top-tier installations. Golden longbow archers and their ridiculously long-range shots allow for tower placement far from the chokepoints where you’re hoping to hold off foes. Another favorite are the massive weirdwood trees that bash foes with branches and siege weapon-sized nuts. While these and other new structures provide both visual newness and slight variations in play style, the fundamental strategies of previous games remain unchanged. Experienced players won’t find quite the same sense of discovery as there might once have been.
Like in Frontiers, stage layouts are dynamic and clever. Enemy paths sometimes change halfway through a level, forcing a dramatic reinvention of your defenses. Easter eggs are hidden around the path periphery, leading to a satisfying tapping about the screen to uncover secrets. The best of these extras fuel gameplay, like a Simon-like memory game with a Smurf-esque creature that leads to a small influx of extra cash. I also enjoy the one-off unit types that show up in a couple of stages, providing a new tower type and unit to master; I wish more levels included these kinds of additional allies and the flexibility to place them where I want rather than be forced to use them in a static location.
The hero progression system remains largely unchanged, with a new selection of characters to level up and bolster the most vulnerable areas of a map. Unfortunately, Ironhide has once again locked the most powerful and intriguing of these heroes as the most expensive to purchase with real money. It’s too bad the game doesn’t offer an in-game path to unlock these individuals, or integrate their acquisition into side missions.
The most impressive feat in Kingdom Rush’s arsenal remains the intricate balance work that makes each level so tricky. The pacing of enemy arrivals and how that timing interacts with your own upgrades is immaculate, and unlike many tower defense games, constant attention and use of special powers is necessary to garner perfect runs. The clever design work sits beside some delightful creature and world design, filled with fantastical creatures and magical locales.
Even if Origins doesn’t dramatically advance the series gameplay, I had a great time once again holding off the monstrous hordes. I’m hopeful to see Ironhide stretch its talented creative muscles a little more within the bounds of its tower defense expertise, but for the time being, Origins continues a successful structure without any stumbles.
Even with few surprises, this tower defense prequel continues a tradition of mobile excellence.