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‘Kingdom Rush Origins’ Review – Maybe the Third Time Isn’t the Charm?

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The Kingdom Rush (Free) series has been one of the most popular tower defense franchises out there, and it’s thanks in part to its introduction of action and RTS elements with the summonable reinforcements, and the hero units that can be sent across the battlefield to help take care of any threats. It gives this genre a fresh feel, and not just about sitting back and watching towers annihilate enemy creeps. Now Ironhide Games continues the franchise with Kingdom Rush Origins ($0.99), a game that iterates on the formula that previous entries established. It’s still a solid game, but it’s pretty clear at this point that it’s a series just for fans of it, and I failed to find any reason for newcomers to particularly jump in to this entry in particular.

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The game’s elements will feel largely familiar to Kingdom Rush veterans, as many of the unit types follow a similar structure as they did before, with archers, stone-throwers replacing bombers, magicians, and the infantry units serving as the towers to fend off enemies. There are a number of new enemies, different upgrades to play with, new special hero attacks to play with, and all sorts of the little tweaks and changes that series veterans will likely point out. There are a number of path designs across the game’s two-dozen-plus levels – pay attention to where the banners are to see where the enemies are marching toward!

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The production values are maxed out, to be sure. This game has spectacular detail, color, and animation. The levels are teeming with animated elements all over the place, including little random things that can be tapped in the levels. Some of them just do things like play music or trigger animations, but others can affect battle, though those are more obvious. The visuals are a bit small on the iPad mini 2’s Retina display, and I understand the lack of zoom functionality, but it can be hard to tell where hero units are in the heat of battle when there’s hundreds of units are on screen at once.

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Unfortunately, Kingdom Rush Origins‘ pacing is a real killer. Back when I reviewed Crystal Siege HD (Free), I noted that game lacked fast-forwarding and felt a bit slow. Well, I forgot that Kingdom Rush has always eschewed fast-forwarding, and the missions in Origins feel particularly lengthy, particularly when there’s no ability to move the action along. The game feels plodding at times, and missions contain ever-increasing numbers of waves. It’s a game that winds up feeling like a chore at times. Also, that game really pushes forward the usage of hero units in tower defense, where it feels a lot more trivial here.

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Also a chore? The game has issues launching properly on iOS 8.1 – it would frequently launch to a black screen on the iPad Mini 2, and I see the same issue with Kingdom Rush Frontiers ($0.99) on my iPhone 6 Plus.

I take issue with some of the in-app purchases. Now, I totally understand that hey, it’s hard to make money on the App Store, and I have no qualms with the game’s price. And if it’s fair, I can live with paid games having in-app purchases. But I don’t know, having a number of heroes that can only be bought with in-app purchases, and having an extra-powerful $6.99 hero in what is a $4.99 game on iPad feels icky to me. This is especially so when the game isn’t universal, so if you buy a character and want to play on your iPhone after playing on iPad, you would have to buy again.

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This criticism is possibly unfair considering that previous games have done similar things, and Crystal Siege has in-app purchases to buy exclusive items, but perhaps it’s that this game puts them out in front of the player every time they select a hero. It’s a combination of factors. Plus, the Android versions are $2.99 for tablet-compatible versions. It’s 2014, Rovio stopped doing iPhone/iPad splits a while ago, the HD moniker doesn’t mean anything any more since the iPhone is actually HD now, let’s just make everything universal. At least there’s iCloud support for saves.

Really, I’m just going to admit that Kingdom Rush Origins is not the ideal kind of game for me. I like my tower defense a bit faster, I like getting into more detail, and I perhaps like my in-app purchases a bit more subtly-placed! I realize that now. I imagine that fans of the series will love this one, and they can flame me all they want. I understand, but I hope they understand why I’m not all that keen on this one. For the person who wants to get into the series, this isn’t a bad entry point, and you probably ought to play one of these games for the cultural awareness. And hey, $2.99/$4.99 aren’t inordinately high prices in the grand scheme of things, so you can say you’re supporting premium game prices. But if you’re new to the series, and not even sure that you like tower defense, I’d suggest jumping into an earlier entry first – you can get Frontiers for free on iPhone through IGN right now, and there’s the myriad sales that pop up, as well, for the series. And I think Origins will play better if you’re acquainted with the series and wind up wanting more, versus just jumping in for the first time. This one’s for fans of the game already, which may be why $6.99 character IAP in a paid game is available, because people care enough to shell out for it. I guess I can’t really fault that, even if I’m not entirely comfortable with it.

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