As some of you know, I don’t like tower defence games. As one reviewer put it, “tower defence gameplay feels more like frantic managerial work than anything else.” With that in mind, I approached Kingdom Rush with a degree of cynicism, expecting yet another stupidly long and boring resource management game where you can die right at the end and lose everything.
Thankfully, I was surprised with how much I engaged with Kingdom Rush the more I got into it. I wasn’t sure why I kept playing and I didn’t bother to stop and think about it. I played through the first eight or so battlefields before putting it down to take a break. When I realized I had just killed three or four hours, I started to wonder what it was that kept me so interested in a genre I usually actively avoid.
I think I can narrow it down to two things that I haven’t found in other tower defence games to date: the ability to influence the flow of the game through the use of barracks and the ability to directly attack the enemies using reinforcements.
“The barracks system is sort of a bandaid for the crappy system that’s existed for so long.”
First, the barracks. Along with the standard towers that you can place in pre-assigned spots along the lane, you can place a barracks that will spawn three soldiers, These soldiers aren’t really that impressive (not yet, anyway), but they perform a critical job: making enemies pause for a few seconds to kill your soldiers.
These few extra seconds might not seem like much but they can make all the difference in the world if you plant a really powerful mage tower next to the barracks and wail on enemies from a distance as they try to kill your minions.
To understand why this is such a big deal, you have to think about how regular tower defence games work. You plant towers, some of which can only attack certain types of enemies (air, ground, etc). If you don’t plant enough of the right type of towers in the right types of spots, you’re screwed from the beginning to the end. Not only that, you have to hope that your towers will be able to fire fast enough to quell the approaching horde. Which they don’t. Like, ever.
The barracks system is sort of a bandaid for the crappy system that’s existed for so long. Because you know you have a bit of a reprieve from the endless shamble of enemies, you can breathe easy knowing that your towers will all have a chance to do tons of damage. This is especially useful for quick enemies that might otherwise get hit once or twice before reaching the end of the lane.
As if providing a clever way to bottleneck enemies wasn’t enough, the barracks allow you to place your group of three soldiers anywhere in a specific range (which increases as you upgrade it). This comes in handy when you need to center a group of soldiers in a three-way intersection or right at the mouth of an enemy spawn point.
Now on to the reinforcements, an addition that, in my opinion, is probably the greatest new mechanic in tower defence ever. Reinforcements can be placed anywhere on the field (two at a time) and act exactly as the soldiers do in terms of slowing down enemies.
“Every time I put down a couple little brown reinforcement dudes I felt like I was influencing the tide of the battle.”
So what’s so great about the reinforcements if they’re just like soldiers? The answer is control. Adding the ability to place reinforcements anywhere you want, whenever you want (there’s a short cooldown while placing them but it’s barely noticeable), makes a huge difference in how I FEEL about what’s happening in the game.
Every time I put down a couple little brown reinforcement dudes I felt like I was influencing the tide of the battle, turning it potentially down a path it wouldn’t have otherwise gone. THIS IS THE THING THAT’S MISSING FROM TOWER DEFENCE GAMES.
So often do you have to set up your towers in anticipation of the incoming hordes, unsure of whether you’ll survive the next wave. The player doesn’t really have any control beyond that first placement. What’s worse, some tower defence games have a really harsh penalty for tearing down towers and replacing them with a different type.
Both the barracks and reinforcement systems serve this same purpose of handing over control to the player. Without them, Kingdom Rush would be another worthless tower defence game riddled with unfair battles and a nerve-wracked player with crossed fingers hoping the incoming goblins won’t just barrel through their defences.