Rusty Sabre

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The Quest: Cursed Chess Set for iPhone
Knights Onrush by Chillingo
I had hoped it about Azgard Defence, and I said it about Knights Onrush as well: if there was anyone that could make me like a game in their game's respective genres, it was MoreGames Entertainment. Unfortunately, the Pocket PC version of Azgard Defence left me more than a little unsatisfied (though I'm still keeping my fingers crossed on the iPhone version). On the other hand, Knights Onrush has far exceeded my expectations. Lush visuals, wonderful audio, and game play that's both furious and skillful at the same time make Knights Onrush the most intriguing castle defense game I think I've played.

Knights Onrush is a castle defense game. In other words, on one side of the screen is your castle. On the other side a bunch of Really Bad People ™ are going to try and storm your castle. You know, sort of like that scene from The Princess Bride, except that the numbers are reversed here. Anyway, much like its close cousin the tower defense game, the fun of castle defense games has always eluded me. That has all changed with Knights Onrush. The visuals will immediately capture your attention, but I'll discuss that in more depth later on. What keeps you coming back is the game play, and for the simple concept of "destroy everything before it reaches your castle", there's actually some real depth to the game play here.

First off, there are three modes to the game: Campaign, Endless Siege and Madness. Madness doesn't really suit me at this point, as it requires a level of expertise that I don't currently possess with this game. From the little I've played so far, however, it seems mainly like Endless Siege on steroids. I have as yet to ever see a Day 2 in this mode. Working backwards, that brings us to Endless Siege. In this mode you have one castle, and you defend that castle until you can't defend no more. Thankfully, in a move that sort of belies its name, you actually do get a break every few rounds of villains to go to a shop and purchase upgrades for your castle. Each sequence from start to shopping is considered a day in game time.

Finally there's Campaign mode, which in my opinion is where the fun really lies (not that Endless Siege isn't fun). In campaign mode there is - you guessed it - a series of campaigns you must embark on. What's so awesome about campaign mode is that each campaign is actually different. The amount of days for a campaign differs, the types of enemies differ, and even the items you have available for sale differ. There are times where it even switches up which side of the screen your castle is on. The nice thing about this is that it forces you to develop a new strategy each time around. Deciding what to buy and when you hold your resources becomes increasingly complex as the levels get faster, the waves of villains get stronger, and your upgrade options start to dwindle. Thankfully the game is merciful in the sense that you only have to redo the failed campaign when you die, or at least that how it works in easy mode - I haven't gotten that far yet in a more difficult mode.

So you've heard me talk about resources and upgrades, and you may wonder what that's all about. There are two types of resources in Knights Onrush. They are gold and sacrifices. Any time you kill an enemy outright or indirectly (except through sacrifice), you earn gold. One of the neat things about this game is that you can use certain types of units to kill other units. For example, there are guys that look kind of like robotic monks that carry explosive barrels. Fling the carrier, and the barrel will drop and explode, taking out anything in the immediate vicinity and shaking anything too far away to directly blow up. Anyway, back to the resource thing. There are two objects you can get, or that you sometimes start with, that also help you gather resources. These are the dragon tower and the hell gate. If you hang a bad guy by the hook a dragon head will come down and eat it, giving you a resource point. In the same vain, if you hold a nasty over the hell gate and drop it in when the gate opens, the monster's charred remains will soon come spewing out of the gate and you will receive a sacrifice point. It takes some combination of gold, sacrifices or both to purchase any upgrades.

"So tell me about the upgrades" you say. I'd be glad to. There are a variety of upgrades that may or may not be available during each campaign. To strengthen your castle, there are a variety of door styles you can choose that are harder to penetrate than the wooden door you start with. If not already provided, you may have to purchase the dragon tower or hell gate early on. To take out your foes in a blaze of glory there is a fireball that can be upgraded, but if artillery is more your style you can buy a gun attachment instead. Finally, for the more barbaric players around, there are boulders and giant stone pillars you can use to crush your foes. Once you've purchased an upgrade of any kind it is available until the current campaign is over. From a strategy standpoint, I like the fact that even when you have upgrades, they aren't always usable. After the level starts and between every use there is a timer while a given update is recharging. Again, it's all part of the strategy.

Now that you've got all this fiendishly destructive stuff, what are you going to use it against? The basics are your typical foot soldiers and knights riding on horses. Then there are the little robotic looking monk things I mentioned earlier. The list grows as you progress through the game, but I won't give away too many details so as not to spoil it for those who like to be surprised. I will mention that you eventually get magical type nemeses as well. And then there's the heavy artillery like catapults. But I'm stopping now. There were some critters that caught me off guard the first couple of times I encountered them, and I want you to share that experience as well. What I like about the rouge's gallery is that it's not only diverse, but it's spread out. Even within the same campaign you won't necessarily encounter the same set of foes each day. The ever changing landscape is quite refreshing.

If you care to know how you actually play the game, it's basically "flick and tell". Or that's what some might lead you to believe, anyway. The controls are all touch based, but if you plan on just picking every foe up and tossing it you'll not only get the full effect of the game, but you won't last very long. It's true that a quick flick will send a villain flying. However, you can also drag villains around the screen, which is good for placing them on hooks or in gates (see where I'm going with this?) To use a boulder you drag it above unsuspecting bad guy heads and let go. A quick swipe starting on the fireball sends it hurtling in the direction you've selected. To use the gun, press on it, aim it, and then let go. What I'm trying to illustrate here is that contrary to some perception, most actions in Knights Onrush are quite deliberate. This aids in the strategic element of the game, because while you're deliberately taking care of some foes, others are still heading for or in the process of beating down your front door. The enemy doesn't stop to wait for you to execute a cool move on a group of foes. In fact, the enemy doesn't stop just because the victory flag has been flown. It can even be said that just because a bad guy is down, doesn't mean it is out. The rule of thumb is to keep playing on a given day until the screen fades to black and the game asks if you want to Shop or Go Next. If there was anything that I had to complain about in regards to game play, it's that sometimes it seems like I can't select a foe to throw, or the screen is so packed that the game isn't selecting the character I thought I clicked on. For the most part this isn't an issue, unless of course the foes I'm trying to grab are the ones right at the drawbridge.

Graphically, I think the only game in MoreGames' library that might exceed the quality of Knights Onrush is iDracula. Every object is finely detailed and animated. In fact, if I could afford the time (the game is generally too fast paced for this), I'd love to just sit and watch how each character reacts as they're dangling from the dragon tower hook waiting to be eaten. A tad morbid? Probably, but that just shows the attention to detail these guys have put into the game. They even came up with a different background for each of the campaigns. The one thing that surprises me with all this diversity, then, is that they didn't come up with different castle designs (at least all the castles look the same to me). I know this wouldn't be necessary by any means, but it sure would be cool.

The audio in Knights Onrush might just trump anything the company has previously turned out. The sound effects are incredibly tuned into what they are being generated from. Each character has unique grunts, groans and screams when they are being tossed around and killed. The artillery even creaks when you pick it up. On the musical end of the spectrum, I could easily see this score in some major medieval action picture (like maybe Knights Onrush: The Movie!) I love sitting and listening to the score while I'm doing things like typing up this review. Now if I could just stop waving my hands in the air like I was directing an orchestra…

Who could have imagined that I could write so much about a castle defense game? The reality is, though, that there's just that much good stuff to write about in Knights Onrush. I'm not going to recap it all, because I have to close this review up, but if you don't have this in your iDevice library yet, get it. Even if you don't like the genre, you'll probably enjoy it. I sure did. I think if it weren't for the sometimes seemingly unresponsive nature of the touch controls when it comes to grabbing foes, this would probably be the perfect castle defense game. As it is, it's certainly the definitive leader in the genre where the App Store is concerned.

Overall Score: 9.5/10

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