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The original Kingdom Rush is one of the App Store's most enticing time sinks – an original tower defense affair that delivers countless hours of challenging entertainment and remains atop the crowded genre on iOS. Kingdom Rush Frontiers, available in separate iPhone (reviewed) and iPad releases, makes little effort to reinvent the formula. It's the same core strategic experience that we loved last year, albeit with fresh terrain and tower upgrades, plus a couple of light twists along the way. And considering the immense quality of the original, it's tough to argue with that approach.
Once more, the goal in Kingdom Rush is to prevent increasingly aggressive and diverse waves of enemy creatures from reaching your base(s) by placing offensive towers in the available plots. Limited resources are granted from the start, with more earned from defeating foes, and they must be used to purchase and upgrade the right combination of towers to defeat the types of enemies flooding the map. Only four tower types are available – which respectively create armed soldiers, launch bombs, fling arrows, and zap magical projectiles – but each can be upgraded several times over, with branching paths allowing for some customization along the way. You'll also have a powerful hero that can be moved around the screen as needed, plus the ability to drop in weak grunts and unleash a meteor attack every so often for a quick save. New upgrade levels and tweaks shake up the strategy a little bit, but by and large this is still the same smart, well-balanced, and thrillingly difficult experience from before.
Frontiers maintains the existing action, but shifts it to some new settings, including the desert and deep jungle, plus the environments are even more charmingly animated than ever. Personality was a strong suit of the original, with colorful foes and little cartoonish action words marking well-executed attacks, and Frontiers again looks tremendous in motion. The levels are a bit more dynamic this time around, as well, with new paths appearing in some, or an enemy helper dragon in one stage disabling certain towers with a surprise attack.
While there's so much to love about Frontiers, it hits with a bit less impact due to the sameness of the experience. We'd hoped for a new tower type, or some sort of strong, fundamental enhancement, but it more or less feels like an expansion to the original game. Restricting several of the available heroes to in-app purchases (with no way to earn them via earned in-game currency) also seems oddly punitive for a paid release. And irritatingly, there were moments where the game didn't recognize a tap to position a unit, or where we'd accidentally tapped something and didn't realize it. Luckily, these aren't significantly damaging issues.
The bottom line. Kingdom Rush Frontiers is another excellent – albeit now familiar – tower defense entry for strategy fans seeking a potent mix of brains and brawn.
iPhone or iPod running iOS 4.3 or later
Smart, challenging, and refined tower defense experience. Fresh tower upgrades and terrain. Loads to play. Colorful, cartoonish aesthetic is even better in Frontiers.
Doesn't strongly advance the series formula. Occasional tap recognition issues. Most heroes are strictly available via in-app purchase. Separate iPad version.