a tower-defense trilogy with UI-design approaching perfection, and entertainment worth missing bedtime for
(UI-focused review on Kingdom Rush (the original), Kingdom Rush: Frontiers, and Kingdom Rush: Origins)
THE USER INTERFACE
MENUS: extremely clear and easy to understand in this game.
Tower achievements as the player builds strength. This is a fully-trained tower set.
We can see the different levels on the map, and also know that we have quick access to the hero-room, store or encyclopedia.
ICONOGRAPHY - clear and memorable. Circular BUTTON style, perfect for your thumbs and not too small.
Archers, Infantry, mage and siege towers
Blank circles on the map indicate where the tower goes, and the player can easilly see what there options are when they click on a spot to build a tower
No matter how "advanced" a player is, a quick description of the major tower upgrades is displayed to the side. This is nice because it often isn't until half-way through the game when things get noticeably more intense that the player now needs to learn about the nuances between the tower upgrades. A player doesn't have to flip back several levels to find out what a tower upgrade does.
The game requires a second-tap to confirm a tower purchase or tower upgrade. If a player decides this isn't the move they want to make, they click anywhere else on screen and save their money.
TOUCH - there is a phone-buzz feedback when enemies get past the exit, letting dread and doom sink into your heart.
ANIMATION - extremely charming and detailed. A few levels could do with a little more animations to draw attention to some level-specific options (like the statue in those pesky fish levels in Frontiers). Kingdom Rush (the original) has some animation interactions just-for-fun (windmills turning on and off, baa-ing sheep) that I wish Frontiers had more of as they are truly delightful.
tap to turn on the windmill, tap to turn off
Amusing to do as you wait for the wave to get crazy
SOUND - tower-upgrades often have humorous, dramatic lines such as for, “For the queen!” or “Blackbird fly!”
FONT - legible at-a-glance. They stay away from cursive-fonts in the game-play fortunately so things are easier to read quickly.
THUMBELINA ACCESSIBILITY - between two thumbs the user can reach everything easily. Sometimes there is a tower placement that is a little too close to the extra-weapons, so that menu frequently rolls out at inappropriate times when you’re trying to select a tower instead. A similar thing can happen with the hero-icon. One of the only UI-problems this game has is that it isn’t super-clear when you’ve selected your hero by accident and then end up accidentally moving them to a different area of the screen.
UI SUMMARY - A slight speed-up button option through the waves would be nice, but overall the waves have a good pace to them. The key with waves is that you don’t want to frustrate the user with a too-slow intro because when they need to restart they might hesitate at the extra time involved. For the most part, the Kingdom Rush games strikes a good balance. Ironhide Game Studio has an excellent UI setup for mobile and I suspect they know it. As a player who played this to death on both phone and tablet, I will say that on a phone, this game is even more fun, but it's definitely enjoyable and doable on a tablet. They do an excellent job of guiding the player through the various interactions one can make, and the game design eases a player into things so that one actually trusts the game. When levels get difficult, it's challenging because the player trusts that there is order in the game design. It doesn't feel futile and up the gamer gods.
Kingdom Rush and Kingdom Rush: Frontiers are more similar in art style and even share a few enemies. Both are extremely challenging on the “Veteran” setting, however, Kingdom Rush the original felt almost impossibly challenging at times. That may have something to do with the fact that Frontiers has stronger heroes to choose from, but regardless, Frontiers was more enjoyable to play overall as it felt challenging but there was hope. Some of the Kingdom Rush levels feel impossible from the get-go. That being said, both the original and Frontiers foster a sense a mastery over the towers and enemies, and the player gets to really learn how to beat the game. Origins felt more random in that regards. The differences between the towers did not stand out, so winning felt more arbitrary and more like luck. In the original or in Frontiers, when you see certain enemies you know for absolute certain what tower and tower upgrades need to happen to win after you’ve played enough. I never got to that level of certainty with Origins and as a result it wasn’t as much fun to play (still fun though). In fact, I wasn’t inspired to play the bonus challenges on the maps for Origins, whereas I played every level and challenge to death on Frontiers and most of them on the original (there's a couple I'm still working on). Origins has a slightly “shiny”, purple-tone art style, which could have worked but I found that the sound effects were a little too high pitched to be pleasant on the ears.
rocket-shooting pet robot
Kingdom Rush’s (the original) difficulty seems to drive the player to go to the store for those bonus booster goodies, but while I like to play around with them for fun, I don’t find it satisfying to win a game by boosters of that nature. The effects are fun, and I like to see what various things do, but I prefer to play a bare-bones game in general and test my skills. Frontiers has those boosters a player can buy with gems, but there were only a couple of levels where I thought they might absolutely be needed (and it turned out that they weren’t). In Kingdom Rush, the bonus levels almost all started off with me thinking “is this were I NEED to go to the store?”.
Another plus for Frontiers is that the enemies and towers were more memorable. It felt like more love went into the art. I had genuine, emotional connections when I saw certain enemies and towers with Frontiers - more so than the other games (check out the Abomination and Battle-Mecha T200 - who doesn't love those guys?).