Week in Mobile: Kingdom Rush: Frontiers and Scurvy Scallywags

Every Saturday here on GameZone, we’ll review a handful of new titles released for iOS and Android and update you on the biggest news we covered.

What mobile games did you play this week? Share in the comments or tweet your experiences to @wita and @GameZoneOnline.

Kingdom Rush: Frontiers

Kingdom Rush: Frontiers

Kingdom Rush was one challenging tower-defense game when it released first in 2011. The sequel is no different. Ironhide Game Studio’s new Kingdom Rush: Frontiers ($5 for iOS) can be brutal at times, but it’s always rewarding.

This is a standard tower-defense game in the sense that players position various towers along a branching path, hoping to keep enemies from funneling to the end of the road and penetrating their defenses. But as the game opens up, it reveals much more depth.

Immediately, Frontiers is likeable. Characters clang swords and emit little “oofs” when they die, and your hero — one of many selectable elite soldiers that you can move around the battlefield to deal massive damage — has his own personality. It’s amusing to see my swordsman Alric run around on tiny legs, shouting things like, “Stay frosty!” in the most masculine voice he can muster. Even the environment holds surprises as creatures react when you tap on them or occasionally act on their own. Builders in the pirate ship level can launch cannons wherever you’d like for a price, but beware opposing fire. And a sandworm in another can swallow everyone, good or bad, whole.

Players can call forth reinforcements every 10 seconds to help delay or overcome the enemy, giving you the precious seconds you might need to sway the fight in your favor. As you kill, you gain gold, which lets you build new defenses or upgrade existing ones. This is where Frontiers really gets interesting. From the four basic tower types — archer towers, barracks, mages’ guilds, and artilleries — emerges incredible possibilities. As you max out your towers through upgrades, you can further augment them with special abilities, making them insanely powerful.

Heroes level up through experience, and you can train them to improve their attacks and strength. They’ll need these boosts to survive against the constant stream of new enemy types, including bosses and stronger foes that can easily sideswipe your reinforcements. This forces you to think more creatively about how you distribute your resources and where you place your hero — often relocating him midwave to counter more resilient opponents as they appear.

Stars from conquered campaigns unlock new upgrades, similar to a skill tree, and gems earned from both victories and losses can buy special power-ups. These are disposable and less compelling than your other abilities, but they could help out in a bind. All of this can drastically change the outcome of future battles. But if Frontiers becomes too challenging (or easy), you can always change down the difficulty.

My only complaint is that you can’t make your hero target specific enemies, so he’ll pass by deadly foes that are wrecking troops to deal with less important ones. It’s not a huge issue, but it can be frustrating. Sometimes he even passes them by completely as you try to direct him to a certain point on the screen.

download yesEven at a pricey $5, Kingdom Frontiers: Rush is a robust game and a wise purchase.

Scurvy Scallywags

Scurvy ScallywagsRon Gilbert and Clayton Kauzlaric over at Beep Games have just done a huge service to the match-three genre. They’ve made a puzzle game — the long name is Scurvy Scallywags in The Voyage to Discover the Ultimate Sea Shanty (99 cents for iOS) — where you fight as a pirate against enemies from within the very rows and columns. Brilliant!

What you might not know is that the game is one big play, and as you “act,” your stage director assigns you small quests. As you sail around the world (on a huge, flat map), you visit locations like caves and forests and match as much as you want as long as you want until all the enemies are gone. But you also can swap spaces with key items — like fertilizer to hurt the plant monsters, and so forth — when they’re next to you, completing quests and earning gold for your efforts.

By matching at least three glowing purples swords, you power up your pirate. Survive and repeat until your pirate’s strength is higher than the enemy’s (all viewable), and you’ll win the fight. But every time you do, you lose some attack power, which makes contending with multiple enemies trickier.

This is where strategy comes in. Matching doesn’t matter so much apart from the swords. Gold is nice, and so are bonus items, but swords are what will win battles. Every time you make a match, though, you run the risk of shifting your and the enemy together. Once you’re side by side, you have to fight unless you have a power-up or ability that can let you escape or increase your chances of winning. The leap skill, for instance, lets you hop a few spaces away, and the blunderbuss gun cripples enemy health by a few points when you shoot them. Most of these have cooldowns, however.

It’s because of this that triggering chains — a desirable occurrence in virtually every other match-three game — can spell your doom. They’re unpredictable and can move you somewhere you’re not ready to go. Figuring out how to move deliberately in certain directions takes some time, but the mechanics soon become second nature.

You collect everything you match though most of it is junk, which you can sell for gold. And swapping spaces with loot (which doesn’t count as a typical move) spins a roulette where you can win bonus goodies. Your main goal, however, is to acquire the 16 verses of the Ultimate Sea Shanty from around the world.

The experience you gain from battles increases your stats as you please, and even the clothing you acquire can bestow stat boosts, just like in a traditional role-playing game. Building materials combine to complete schematics and engineer new types of ships, which carry their own advantages (like reducing skill cooldowns by 10 percent).

Scurvy Scallywags is worth its price many times over and then some, but what players might not like is the permadeath. Once you lose three hearts (and you’ll know exactly which fights you’re going to fail), it’s game over unless you pay a sum of gold to resurrect. You can also purchase a heart in the shop, but it’s extremely expensive. Thankfully, a number of power-ups can save your hide, including the modestly priced swap charge, which lets you flee one space away — a temporary retreat at best.

download yesThe only in-app purchase in the game might be what helps you avoid death completely: the gold-doubler for 99 cents. Considering you’d only be paying $2 altogether, I’d say it’s a smart investment.

These games were reviewed on an iPad Mini.

Honorable Mention

Bloom Box is a fun little game from Nexx Studio where you arrange boxes so that they set off chains. Each colored box displays a different shadow pattern on the field. These highlighted squares are its “range,” so to speak. While you can move most boxes so that one falls into the reach of another, which triggers it, you can’t alter where the stars are. You’ll need to find a way to align the boxes so that you’ll activate every box and every star for a perfect performance.

It’s like tipping dominos if the dominos could fall on spaces not touching them and make colorful flowers blossom which every successful connection.

You can try out the first 40 levels for free or pay 99 cents for the full version.

News Highlights

Halo: Spartan Assault

Square Enix has spruced up Final Fantasy Tactics iOS with higher-resolution visuals and iCloud support. It also cut the price in half for a short time.

Deus Ex: The Fall hits iOS this summer.

Final Fantasy 4 (the DS remake) is now available on Android. For a steep price, of course.

Check out a glimpse of Halo: Spartan Assault in action on Windows 8 devices. It releases in July for compatible phones, tablets, and PCs.