Kingdom Rush Frontiers Review: Genius in Tower Defense Form
When I first sat down to review Kingdom Rush Frontiers, I told myself I had about an hour to put into it for the day, considering the amount of things that were beginning to pile up on my To Do list. So, I sat back in a recliner and booted the game up. Three hours later, my index finger was cramping, my eyes were dry, and I found myself coming out of a stupor that only a truly great game can put you in.
Honestly, it’s hard for me to find where to begin this review other than just saying it’s a great game. A very, very great game. It hits on nearly every facet that makes for a great tower defense game in the most seamless and well-realized way possible, making it quite possibly one of the best mobile games I’ve ever played.
For those who aren’t familiar, a tower defense game sees the player using various defense towers and units to block oncoming waves of enemies trying to reach a certain destination on a map. While the mechanics vary from game to game, they typically combine elements of resource management and strategy to put the player in the role of a leader or commander trying to obstruct enemies in a way that will see them wiped out before they’re able to reach your safe point and cause damage to your holding. It’s a game of tactics with its own unique twist that is both challenging and addicting in its own right.
And while the original Kingdom Rush was a fantastic game that has risen to become one of the best on mobile devices, Frontiers took everything a step further by taking the formula of the original and building it into an even more impressive and cohesive experience.
There are varying levels of difficulty for Kingdom Rush Frontiers, but it’s clear from the start that it’s not for the light of heart. Yes, it does have some casual put down, pick-up-and-play appeal, but it’s a game you’ll find yourself absorbed into as you try over and over again to beat each new mission and find the right combination of towers to build on the map that will suit your needs.
Whereas many other tower defense games offer you varied towers and units to play around with, Frontiers has a very heavy tactics focus that will force you to strategically plan out your every move. New enemies are introduced all the time in Kingdom Rush Frontiers, each with their own attributes to add to the challenge. Some are faster with weaker damage resistance, while others are slow, tank-like enemies who might be resistant to magic. Variety is especially important, as you’ll use different towers for the purposes of slowing enemies down, doling out heavy damage, and picking away at their health as they march by. And each mission jumps in difficulty, making the game a fairly challenging experience that is nothing if not satisfying when pulled off correctly.
Money is earned for each enemy unit killed, and bonus money can be awarded when you start a turn early or purchase extra money at the start of a mission using in-game currency. The only microtransactions I managed to find in Kingdom Rush Frontiers was the ability to purchase the in-game currency Gems (which I found to be handed out fairly liberally), and to buy a Hero character to lead your team. Now, I’m not a big fan of in-game purchases on games that one pays a fair amount of money for, but these were easier to swallow when it was considered that the Gems only purchased you one-time use items, and the game itself allows you to start with three unlocked heroes from the beginning, making the purchase a completely ancillary decision that had little to no bearing on the experience as a whole.
But the genius in Frontiers’ design goes further than the mere enemy and tower types. There are special abilities that can aid you in the event your towers don’t take out the right amount of enemies, towers can be upgraded and given specific attributes to help you in battle, heroes can be trained in new skills to help keep stray enemies away from your base, and an in-game shop allows you to purchase one-time use items using the aforementioned Gems that can help turn the tide of battle alongside your special abilities. Add to that surprise boss fights and a clean and unique visual design all its own, and it’s clear that Kingdom Rush Frontiers is something special.
Like I said before, however, this is not a game for the faint of heart. While the basic mechanics and operations within the game are easy to learn, it will take multiple failures and experiments to learn the finer details of the game’s tactics and how to most effectively place your towers for maximum effect. Even on the normal and easy difficulty, be ready to try missions over and over again in order to really start to get the hang of things.
And while that might sound like a criticism, it actually plays to the game’s strengths. Because it’s not a hand-holding experience, each successful mission feels even sweeter when taken in with the countless losses you’ll go through while playing. Sure, it’s a bummer to helplessly watch enemies march into your gates unscathed, but when you finally manage to see the Victory screen pop up, it’s completely worth it. Any mistakes you make are completely on you, forcing players to be ever more mindful of their decisions and uses of the game’s various units.
I do recommend playing the game on a tablet, as there are a lot of things going on visually that can be easily lost on the smaller screens of phones and other touch devices. It functions just fine on the smaller devices, but I felt more in control when able to play it on a larger screen.
But no matter where you play it, it’s clear that there’s something special about this game. Truly, Kingdom Rush Frontiers belongs at the top and should be used as a standard for the tower defense genre as a whole. From the mechanics down to the overall presentation, everything about Kingdom Rush Frontiers is an absolute triumph and will keep you coming back for more time and time again.