Ever since the original Kingdom Rush took over my summer a couple of years back, I know better than to plan on playing anything else right after a new entry in the series is released. Clear my calendar: I have gnolls and spiders to thwart.
This gripping series has become the gold standard for tower defense on touch devices, so much so that it's also the top target for knockoffs: Activision's new Duck Commander: Duck Defense is a lame rehash inexplicably based on reality TV series Duck Dynasty. But ignore the clones, as Kingdom Rush Origins ($3) just launched to offer a proper fix—and for newcomers, it's as good a place as any to start.
That's because Origins—as its title implies—is pegged as a prequel, and there's more of a traditional fantasy bent at work, but story really isn't a strong pull here. Over the dozens of hours I've spent with Kingdom Rush and its sharp sequel Kingdom Rush Frontiers, I haven't learned a single character's name, nor could I tell you anything specific about the conflict portrayed. As far as I'm concerned, it's all attractive window dressing for the richest tower defense option on mobile.
Origins doesn't break the series' mold, but it didn't have to: the formula established back in 2012 still holds strong today. Kingdom Rush focuses on simplicity when it comes to tower selection, only offering four types: long-range archers, barracks for close-range soldiers, heavy-duty rock launchers, and spell-flinging wizards. Pair that with limited building plots and it seems like a recipe for repetition, right?
It's not, thankfully, and that's due to the extensive upgrade system. You can upgrade each tower several times over, as well as choose between branching ability paths, meaning two of the same tower type might function very differently on the screen. That approach provides plenty of depth for your strategies, and you'll need to use your limited coins wisely to take down the myriad monsters and super-powered sorcerers that flood the pathways en route to your base.
Each tower can become an incredible powerhouse (with enough coins), and split upgrade paths mean you can decide between two versions of its later form, each with different abilities. Even those abilities can be enhanced multiple times over.
Kingdom Rush Origins spreads its 15 levels across a hand-drawn map screen, which is also your hub for between-round enhancements. You can permanently improve your towers and special abilities, as well as choose and upgrade a hero.
Each level is attractively drawn and requires different strategies, and if you look closely here, you can find some pop culture tributes: Link from The Legend of Zelda and Pip Boy from Fallout appear as bushes, and that deer sure looks like Bambi.
Brief comic cut-scenes appear from time to time, and Origins is considered a prequel set before the two other games. Story doesn't make much of an impact, however, so you won't be lost if you start with any Kingdom Rush game.
Why it's worth your money
Like its predecessors, Kingdom Rush: Origins is an impressively polished and intensely addictive strategy experience that's an absolute steal for three bucks. I love how the seemingly limited core game design really just forces you to think smarter about every tiny decision, and whenever you fail—and you will, spectacularly—it just emboldens you to dig back in and rethink your approach. Credit the great hand-drawn aesthetic, complete with onomatopoeia action words to designate major attacks, for keeping things cheery even in defeat.
Origins is a steal for the price not only because it's so damn fun and engaging, but also because there's plenty to enjoy. The 15 included stages will keep you playing and replaying until you perfect them all, and then you can play intense challenge stages and jump up to Veteran difficulty to seriously test your skill and determination. Mastering all of that will take a long, long time—I promise you that.
If you're already into Kingdom Rush, then you probably grabbed this latest entry as soon as you saw the headline. If not, then start now, as Kingdom Rush Origins is one of the top tower defense experiences on any platform, not to mention one of the best Android games of the year.
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