I just got finished playing around an hour or so of Ironhide's Iron Marines [$4.99], and it'd be hard for my first impressions of the game to be any better. It's from the developers of the Kingdom Rush [Free] series, so it's not much of a surprise that they'd know how to make a really great mobile game. At its simplest, the easiest way to describe Iron Marines is that it's pretty dang close to a mobile version of StarCraft. At times it even feels a little too on the nose when it comes to riffing directly from the Blizzard classic, but with a unique art style and a fascinating blend between tower defense and real time strategy mechanics, Iron Marines manages to feel distinctly different even if it is giving a unbelievably massive hat tip towards the StarCraft universe.

The whole game is controlled via a simple touch interface that works almost exactly as you'd expect it to. To select units, you tap them. To move units, you drag them in a way that feels a bit like playing Battleheart [$2.99]. They'll then make their way to that location, stop, and fire at anything within range. Additionally, on a lot of the maps you come across there will be points that you can install towers on, and those towers can then be upgraded a lot like a tower defense game.

Iron Marines' tutorial leaves a little to be desired, so here's a couple tips that I figured out while playing: To select multiple units to move them at the same time, double tap a grouping of units that are all standing near each other. This will allow you to then drag away from the grouping and move them all at once. There's also a mini-tower drop gun thing that you can drop on the map which is on your toolbar of icons in the bottom right corner. If your units are getting overwhelmed, this can be a lifesaver. These two things really helped me with some levels I was having difficulty with.

Mission types, at least in the early game, feel just like something you'd come across playing the single player of StarCraft. You'll do things like rescue marines, complete an entire map using just one hero character, build and defend multiple bases, and other things like that. The way you do all of these things have been distilled down to the genre's most pure essence. For instance, you control a very small number of units at any one time. The maps I've come across so far have maxxed out at three units (with some units actually being a squad of three of those units) plus your hero character which is totally enough to have competent skirmishes without getting overly complicated and overloading what would be possible with the games' touch control scheme. Also, so far, base building is limited to building towers on designated building points and coming across other bases you can take control of.

The enemies of the early game are very Zerg-like, and are a wide spread between enemies that do area effect damage, flying enemies, powerful siege units, and more. The variety is really quite impressive. Resource generation is constant, and it feels like you're always juggling moving your soldiers around, upgrading things, and making sure all of your existing tower defenses are doing alright while managing the cooldown abilities of your hero character. It's fascinating how Iron Marines simultaneously feels like a tower defense game and an RTS game without either element really feeling weaker than the other.

One thing I'm not super sure about just yet is how the difficulty curve of the game and the freemium elements all come into play. The fourth level felt artificially difficult to me at first, but I'm still not sure if I just needed to play the game better, use a different strategy, or what. I breezed through the first three levels then hit a wall for a while. I eventually got through the level without paying, but I really couldn't tell you if it was my skill level that's the problem, something I was supposed to be doing that I wasn't because there isn't much of a tutorial, or what. There's also optional missions which were also very difficult for me, but perhaps you're supposed to go back to them after upgrading your hero a few times.

As far as things you can buy in the game, there's three hero units you can choose from for free, and six more you can buy. The cheapest unlockable hero is $2.99 while the most expensive is $6.99. (I haven't dumped any money into the game yet to see if there's a wide disparity in power levels between these units.) Each of these units have three abilities that you can upgrade via spending "Hero Points" which you get from playing the game. From there you can also buy "credits" and "techpoints." Credits buy you additional weapons that basically serve as consumable power-ups while techpoints unlock persistent upgrades from a massive tech tree. Both currencies are rewarded at a decent clip while playing, and you can get credits by watching ads if that's something you're into.

Overall, my early impressions are super positive and I'm excited to get deeper into the game to answer questions like whether or not any of the "premium" heroes are required, and if the game is balanced in a way that you can just play through it without really dealing with any freemium shenanigans if you wanted to. I suspect there will be some kind of freemium pinch point eventually, but when it hits, I couldn't tell you just yet. Even if it does, tossing the developers of a game of this level of quality a couple bucks wouldn't be the worst thing in the world.

Folks in our forums are going wild over the game, and it's easy to see why: With the caveat of that I've only played for around an hour, Iron Marines is one hell of a game.

  • ashmike3

    Any sense of how big it is? Hours of play?

    • Brandon Guzman

      Took me 6 hour in veteran 🙂

  • stumme.ursel

    addition to my previous comment:
    if this game would have been released by another developer with the same premium price and iap shenanigans, the reactions would have been different than "you could throw them a few bucks" or "i am willing to grind" or "this developer did this in every other game, but its okay" 😉

    • http://javatune.co drunk_vader

      Absolutely. Considering you can get full premium games with ZERO IAP for the same price (Cat Quest, Darkest Dungeon) it is beyond sad that people defend these practices in premium games, no matter the developer.

      • stumme.ursel

        i couldn t agree more.

        ...and i have written quite a bit before my previous statement, therefor i started with "in addition to...", but strangely that wall of text is gone and i dont want to rewrite that amount of text again with my tablet. just in case anyone is wondering why i started my comment with those words 🙂

    • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

      I don't know, I think $5 is criminally underpriced for this level of quality so draw whatever conclusions you want from there.

      • stumme.ursel

        absolutely. i dont think that 5€ are much for a game, even on movile plattforms, but i like to pay upfront.
        and not because i hit a difficult level or just because i did not grind enough. i am more than willing to pay more than this 5€ and even more for content dlcs. but if i have to pay (perhaps you dont have to buy anything...) for stuff like consumables or upgrade points, i am instantly turned off.
        you never know how much you have to spend in order to progress. perhaps its "just" two extra dollars/euros to beat a difficult level, perhaps you have to spend two dollars every now and then (lets say every four or five levels).
        but these are just my two cents. i hope i am proven wrong, so i can buy this game, because i have been waiting a long time, like everyone else here 😉

      • Mark Williams

        You don’t have to pay a cent, trust me. I’ve finished the first world so far and didn’t buy any of the IAP. I’ve unlocked nine of the twelve heroes so far just by playing the game, and I bought it two days ago. The IAP just helps you go up the skill tree faster, that’s all. It’s for impatient folks.

      • Saveria

        I feel I easily got $30 or more worth of value from any single entry in the kingdom rush series, which is about how much the base game and a few heroes would cost.

    • http://twitter.com/JaredTA Jared Nelson

      It is exactly because they've proven themselves through their previous games that people say those things. This is the full game for five bucks, no restrictions. IAP currency for those who want to shortcut. Additional DLC heroes for anyone who wants to add extra content to the experience and play the game in a slightly different way. No different than Shovel Knight's DLC expansions.

      It's really strange because in a normal world, if you told someone they could buy a great RTS game for their handheld system for $30 (the base price + all DLC heroes), BUT you said they had the option to just buy the base game first for just $5 and then add on the extra bits if and when they see fit, that should be a better option for everyone. You don't have to shell out the full price up front and get stuff you possibly don't even want, you can just buy the stuff you do. There is no reality where that is not the best option for a consumer, but in the world of mobile people will twist it around to be the worst thing ever ¯_(ツ)_/¯

      • stumme.ursel

        nope, sry that is not exactly what i meant. perhaps there is some context missing because my wall of text is not posted here, but you never know that you dont need money to advance. if you did not tell me, that i dont need extra money to progess, i only could guess, that i dont have to, because i know the kingdom rush series.
        and i did not complain about the heroes. i am totally fine with that. i am just saying, that this kind of monetization would have had another reception if the developer would not have been ironhide. i mean, i dont want to argue about the qualitiy of this game, i am just stating, that i like to pay upfront.
        and yeah, like you compare this with console game prices (which is always THE argument) , i can say that i just dont like surprises regarding ingame currency. nothing more, nothing less 🙂
        and as you know, 5€ in mobile gaming market is considered to be a premium price and people will always have to say something/complain about iaps (especially ones that go up until 99€).

      • stumme.ursel

        and sry, you didnt compare this to console games. i must have misread that. i am almost asleep 🙂

      • http://twitter.com/JaredTA Jared Nelson

        I think I see what you mean. If someone wasn't familiar with Ironhide or the Kingdom Rush games, they'd be skeptical of the paid+IAP approach, and rightly so because so many devs have abused IAP in so many different ways. I think that's why communities like TA are so important, to help others learn the good devs from the bad. What gets me is when people shit all over a game at first sight of IAP without actually taking the time to understand how it works. Already people instantly shitting all over this fabulous game due simply to the IAP, which is a shame both for the devs and for those people.

      • stumme.ursel

        exactly, you nailed it. that is exactly what i was trying to say. you wrote it more easy-to-understand:)

      • sbmuc

        I Agree that this game might be worth more than 5 bucks. But the fact of the matter is that restricting gameplay(hero's especially in this game) with IAP is not cool. Either make it free and even more IAP or 10 bucks and let us unlock hero's with exp or ingame currency.

  • Jinxtah

    I really don't like the extra IAP thing, but luckily it wasn't a concern in the kingdom rush games. Admittedly 5 dollars isn't a lot for a game, so I understand they want more money, but on the other hand, I don't think both premium and freemium combined is a great way to go about it.

    Whatever though, as long as it's irrelevant I'll live with it. Do we have a sense of how long it is?

    • Franco Zucchi

      About 8 hours

      • Jinxtah

        How did you arrive at that number?

      • Franco Zucchi

        I've played through the game already. It took me about 8 hours to complete the main campaign on veteran.

      • Jinxtah

        Alright, thanks!

      • Antony A

        god some of you people are far too good at games ! I've played for about 3 hours and am no more than 1/4 the way through - on easy setting !!

      • Jinxtah

        I've started on veteran, and it's not overly hard so far, but then I'm only 4 missions in with 2 heroes. I started with Fate, but she's way overpowered compared to Taggins, so I restarted.

        We all play at our own pace though. If you're familiar with Kingdom Rush and general RTS gameplay mechanics it's not hard (so far anyway), but don't feel bad about playing on easy. Once you come to grips with how do things, it becomes a matter of micro managing the unit placements for optimal damage/defense (or that's how it is with all other RTS games anyway).

    • Tychaeus

      Yeah, I have to agree...I guess if they were purely cosmetic or it was online multiplayer with regular patches and content updates I could be...I dunno if this is that though....buuut...it does look like there is some content "coming soon," or down the line. I would rather know what to expect or am getting into, but I can EASILY justify $5 for the base game and heroes and will play as far as that will take me. I love a well done rts especially with rpg elements...almost my favorite mix...as Ive said prolly alot at this point my fav game ever is Dawn of War 2, and the way this plays is reminiscent of that...with a nice touch of starcraft. I never played kingdom rush myself, but been watching this one since announced and from only 3 missions in I am already happy with my purchase =D

      • Jinxtah

        The "coming soon" would be in line with their previous games. Content was added several times (like 2-3 missions per time, and acting like mini campaigns with a different theme and self contained little story, which was quite cool).

        I'm buying the game. Everyone I've seen posting has enjoyed it so far, so why not.

  • Ernesto Ibarra

    Anyone can tell me if this support multi language?

    • Franco Zucchi

      Yes, it does support multilanguage, including spanish.

  • Luzsec

    Instabuy, hope the iap not really needed 🙂

  • Luzsec

    Instabuy of course.. i had all version of kingdom rush.
    time to recharge my IGC

  • Saeedkhani

    I happily pay 10$ for this game without IAPs / heroes should be unlockable with in game currency /

  • arnoldc

    It is not obvious to me but the description said I will get a premium hero if I play before Sept 15. Just start the game and there is no indication. My guess is Fate?

    • Franco Zucchi

      It's Fate, you can redeem her by going to the store in-game.

      • arnoldc

        Thanks. I don't need to redeem her and she is already showing up as selectable in my list and that's the confusing part.

  • Boaz van Veen

    I love games like this. Base building and no turn-by-turn. Are there more games like this that are not freemium crap? Last ~2-3 years? I wanna buy them all! Do reply to me then please! <3