Smartphones are rife with many a simple game, but simplicity should not be mistaken for a lack of depth. Often developers make the mistake of trying to incorporate too many complex ideas into their games which can end up doing more harm than good. On the flipside, there are plenty of games that do too little and wouldn’t hold the attention of a toddler.
Games are fun when they focus on a few core elements and perfect them. Pixel Kingdom (for iOS and Android) isn’t muddled down with unnecessary, incongruent mechanics and features fun and simple – but not shallow – gameplay.
The management of resources, strategic placement of units, and the various ways in which said units interact are arguably the most satisfying elements of any defense game. The defense genre has been a homestead of flash gaming on the web, and with the relatively recent smartphone explosion there are countless portable variations to play. Most often these games require the player to defend a base of some sort from waves of enemy units by strategically placing turrets alongside the enemy path. Other variations will have a stationary tower/castle on one side of the screen with no specific grid-based paths, and often allow the player to interact directly with the enemy units like some sort of god by tapping them to death, flinging them into the air, etc. Yet another variation puts the player on the attacking side, sending waves of units to conquer enemy structures. Pixel Kingdom successfully blends defensive and offensive gameplay, and throws RPG elements into the mix.
Pixel Kingdom’s field is comprised of 3 lanes. Enemy units make their way from right to left, and any that make it across will reduce the player’s HP by 1. Players can combat the 50+ types of foes with over a dozen units of their own, each of which have their own unique mechanics. Wizards, for example, have powerful long-ranged attacks but have comparitively low HP, while melee units excel in hand-to-hand combat but are defenseless against projectiles. Support units like monks and clerics can be used to push enemies back and heal friendly units, respectively. Any player unit that makes it to the end will reduce the enemy HP by the unit’s mana cost, such as 20 for a wizard or 10 for an archer.
Each enemy slain yields three gold and a varying number of experience points. Gold can be used to unlock additional units, temporary buffs, and also to purchase single-weapon upgrades for each unit. Upgrading the wizard staff, for example, will cause each attack to slow advancing enemies’ movement. Gems are awarded at a rate of one every four levels, and are used to level up individual units, increasing their attack and HP. Additional units and gear can be unlocked as the player levels up.
As previously mentioned, units cost Mana, and the management of this resource is the core mechanic dictating the flow of battle. Mana is automatically generated, but only so quickly. It can, however, be invested to increase the rate at which it is generated, starting at 10 and doubling in cost with each subsequent investment. As they say, you need to spend Mana to make Mana.
Pixel Kingdom is packed with content. Completing 50 levels in Classic mode will unlock Underworld, in which everything is on fire and the enemies are hellishly fierce (gems are awarded every two levels here). There’s also Arena mode, wherein the player tries to survive for as long as possible until inevitably succumbing to the overwhelming stampede of otherworldy beings. In addition to these extra modes, there are dozens of trophies to be collected by meeting certain goals, such as slaying a dragon for the first time, beating x levels, unlocking x units, etc.
While well-designed on the whole, it does have a couple of irksome qualities. It takes quite a while to level up and unlock new items, and even longer to earn enough gold to buy everything. To put it into context, unit prices jump from 2,500 to 22,000 gold, which is obviously to encourage IAPs. To be fair, the game is ad-free and enjoyable enough where the grind isn’t all that unbearable, and players not pressed for time won’t feel like they have to spend money to progress. The gameplay is solid except for one frustrating, albeit very rare, bug. There are times when a player’s ranged unit will be attacking an enemy unit that has just spawned, but is still off-screen, making it invulnerable. This isn’t an issue unless the enemy unit is also ranged, in which case it’ll be able to fire back for a free kill.
Pixel Kingdom hits the sweet spot of accessibility and depth that perfectly compliments mobile platforms. For anyone looking for a casual, addictive strategy game wrapped in an appealing retro aesthetic and doesn’t mind a little bit of grinding, this is one to download.
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