Review: Kingdom Rush: Frontiers

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Ultimately, we don’t ask that much from our sequels—just that they be bigger, better and, by all that’s holy, not be Sex in the City 2. By those standards, Kingdom Rush: Frontiers, the follow-up to one of the most awesome and beloved tower defense games on the iOS platform, passes with flying artillery shells. But you may find yourself asking, as you fend off frantic waves of familiar foes: Is this a sequel or merely an expansion?

First glance suggests the latter. Your four basic tower types (barracks, marksman, mage and artillery) have returned intact and the Gnome store looks exactly as it did in the original game, with nary a new item to purchase. The clever and cartoonish art style, right down to the dopey catch phrases your units utter as you place and upgrade them (“Fully loaded”) is exactly as charming and hilarious as you remember it.

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Play past the initial levels, and you’ll discover there are clever nuances that go beyond the new jungle and subterranean environments. For instance, the fourth-level towers have diversified in interesting and strategic ways. Upgrading your mage tower into a necromancer’s tower offers the multiple advantages of creating a skeletal army from fallen foes and sloshing the path with toxic green goo that’s a hell of a lot more effective at damaging enemies than your ubiquitous meteor shower. The only thing that tops it is cranking out a mobile AT-AT-like missile launcher when your artillery units hit level four. So much more effective and visceral than opting for the drumbeat of the silly Dwaarp tower.

Heroes are again a big piece of the action, but this time, you’re buffing their abilities and leveling them up across missions rather than within them—and man, what a useful and welcome change that is. Less welcome is the fact that most of the heroes roster is again locked away behind an in-app purchase wall, and some of those IAPs seem pretty steep. ($6 for a hero unit? Ouch.) It’s certainly possible to beat the main campaign by just max-leveling one of the three free heroes—go with Cronon, the jungle dude with the falcon and wildebeest herd–but it’s hard to escape the sense that you’re missing something by not turning back the tides with a Davy Jones knock-off or a death-dealing dragon.

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Meanwhile, the levels in Frontiers cleverly toss curveball grenades into your otherwise rock-solid strategies. Enemies unexpectedly hack new paths through the jungle in the middle of a level or scale up from the depths of the abyss to duck behind your defenses. Others teleport, resurrect fallen comrades or mutate your own troops to turn against you. There’s rarely a time when you’ll cakewalk through any level, and plenty of times where a level that seems to be humming along nicely suddenly goes off the rails under an unexpected enemy rush.

And just as before, you’ll spend a fair amount of time in the midgame grinding levels to score cash to purchase items—freeze bombs, extra hearts, the devastatingly reliable atomic Big Bertha–that’ll help you survive that level you keep failing. Doubling back to earn stars in each level’s heroic challenges to upgrade your units is still an effective strategy. Well, at least until you hit the final subterranean level. Man, that final boss is beyond cheap.

When the last wave of enemies has finally been repelled, Frontiers delivers on its promise, breaking the Kingdom Rush formula into a few new territories. I can’t help feeling that there’s still more that could be explored here—here’s hoping Ironhide’s already brewing plans to tackle the challenge.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Everything you liked about the first game returns
+ New level four tower choices are a blast—necromancy!
+ Sneaky new enemy tactics keep you on your toes, er, fingers

Cons:
– Most of the hero units are only available as in-app purchases
– Not quite as much new here as you’d expect

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on iPad, also available for iPhone and iPod touch
Publisher: Ironhide Game Studio
Developer: Ironhide Game Studio
Release Date: 6/6/2013
Genre: Tower Defense Strategy
Age Rating: 9+
Players: 1
Source: Game purchased by reviewer

About the Author

Aaron R. Conklin has been writing about games and games culture for more than 15 years. A former contributor to Computer Games Magazine and Massive Magazine, his writing has appeared on IGN.com and in newspapers and alt-weeklies across the country. Conklin's an unapologetic Minnesota sports fan living in Madison, Wisconsin, home of the Midwest's most underrated gaming vibe.