Review: Knights Onrush (iPhone)

Knights Onrush
Developer: MoreGames
Publisher: Chillingo
Genre: Strategy/Castle Defense
Release Date: 6/3/2009

As I stated in my review of Toki Tori, in the sprawling metropolis that was the iPhone and it’s capabilities, games were like the seedy back alley. I didn’t want to go near them lest I end up demoralized, short of money, and possibly with an STD. If that alley was loaded with hookers and prostitutes, at the very least, Toki Tori was the Vivian Ward of the group; a charming, intellectual sort that you just wanted to take home and snuggle with.

Along those lines, we have Knights Onrush, which can best be described as a more presentable version of cult favourite Stick Wars. The general gist of the games are the same, but can MoreGames out-do John Hartzog’s creation, and justify a price increase of 500% ($5 vs. $1)?

Which game is better is really up to the opinion of the player, but Knights Onrush has enough polish, replayability and entertainment value that anyone purchasing the game will not regret it.

Knights Onrush is what is called a castle defence game. In this genre, you’re given a bit of time to keep your castle’s walls up against a constant barrage of enemies. Generally, you can defend by using your finger to lift an enemy up, and either flick him away, or drive him into the ground; enough force, and he’ll comically die. The more enemies that come on screen, the more flicking is necessary. In the beginning of the game, enemies basically go straight to the door of your castle, but after awhile, they start to jump, disappear, and use projectiles via flaming barrells and catapults. There is a nice variety of enemies, and in the later, more advanced stages, having everyone mixed together means involving some strategy to go with the insane speed-flicking that is going to be necessary to survive. However, enemies can bunch up so much that it’s hard to pick just the right one. You could be aiming for the Knight that’s doing serious damage to your castle’s door, only to keep hitting other foot soldiers around him. This is endemic to the genre, but it still gets annoying. Another issue – this one major – is that I’ve had issues with touch detection in a lot of stages, especially if there’s a lot going on. There are times when I’ll be flicking someone, and I KNOW I’m flicking him, but it either will not register, or it’ll be like I drop him, and he doesn’t go high enough to die, and he just goes right back to taking down my door. If touch detection is the very point of your game, and it’s inconsistent, you have issues, and this was the number one problem I had with this game. It’s made even worse by the fact that, if you lose on a day halfway through a stage, you have to do the whole stage over. This is a horrendous design decision where most stages contain anywhere from 10-20 days, with 25 being the max.

Killing enemies is about more than just flicking them, however; there are other, more entertaining ways of killing them. The first ones you’ll get to use involve either hanging them on a hook and waiting for a giant dragon to come along and eat them, or dropping them into a fiery hell pit, which is fun because after a few seconds, the pit burps up the skeletal remains of your enemy. It’s not for the squemish, but it’s so cartoony it’s cute in a strange, sadistic sense. This is beneficial as well, as there’s two types of benefits you gain from killing enemies: you get gold for every kill, which can be used as currency to buy weapons and improvements. For every kill you make with the two weapons I mentioned above, you get credit for a “sacrifice”, which is necessary to buy the better weapons. Other weapons include pillars that can be used to crush enemies (by sliding it down upon them), boulders to be dropped on enemies, giant flames that can blow enemies up, and various cannons. They all use the touch controls intricately, and are generally well done and add a fun layer of strategy, not only in how and when to use them (there’s a recharge between uses), but what to buy and when. The problem with currency – at least in the game’s main mode – is that it doesn’t transfer between stages. Each stage is a set number of days that you have to survive, with your castle door’s health regenerating between days. If you beat a stage, you move onto the next stage and start from scratch again. I wish there was a way to carry over some benefits between stages, like how Stick Wars has it set up.

There are three main modes to the game: there’s the regular campaign/story mode, Endless mode, and Madness mode, which is basically Endless mode with the difficulty jacked up. The regular campaign is designed to gradually bring players into the harder stages, but the difficulty curve is a bit schizophrenic; I had more problems with the first few stages than I did with some of the later ones mainly because of the issues with exploding barrells and the way certain enemies combined to make my life a living hell. Instead of being a difficulty “curve”, it’s more like a difficulty sine wave; it starts out hard, gets really easy, then goes right back to being really hard. Endless and Madness modes basically exist for people looking to kill time, and also to get their names on a leaderboard.

Aesthetically, the game does very well. The sprites are colourful and mostly well animated, and there’s a lot of personality to the game, especially in the ways you can kill enemies, most of which I’ve gone over. The music during stages is completely inconsequential, which is fine because the game allows you to listen to your iPod while playing, an outstanding touch if you have the right music for the job. You know, just in case you want to make the harder stages more dramatic with Ride of the Valkyries.

The ultimate question for fans of this type of game is likely going to be thus: is the $5 Knights Onrush worth the money when the comparable Stick Wars costs only $.99? I would say yes. The basic gameplay is very similar, and Stick Wars has some very nice things that I like such as the ability to capture and use enemies, but the balance is off – if you don’t build right early, just restart – and Stick Wars is buggy as all get-out, crashing on me on multiple occasions, and even forcing me to hard-reboot my phone a couple times. It’s to the point where I’m almost afraid to play the game lest it actually damage my phone. On the other hand, Knights Onrush is rock solid from a stability standpoint*, has a solid framerate, receives consistent updates (including one recent one where they added an extra type of weapon for the top of the castle) and is a more balanced and better overall game. When you realize that MoreGames has a team of programmers and Stick Wars is a one-man show, it’s more understandable. Still, the end result is that even at the higher price, the more expensive game is still the better overall value, at least until John Hartzog gets around to fixing the bugs he’s acknowledged his game has.

With that said, though Stick Wars is deep compared to other castle defence games, it’s not the type of game that carries with it the potential for long playing time. There’s a high amount of addictiveness, but once you’re done with the campaign there’s no real reason to go back to it. At that point, your only task is to get better and better scores to post online, which is problematic considering the fact that I wasn’t able to post my scores once; it kept rejecting my connection to their servers. I don’t know if this is because I’m not on Wi-Fi when I’m on my iPhone, but if that’s the case, that’s inexplicable. I just watched the Cubs play the White Sox on my phone. Surely, with a game that’s been 3.0 tested, they can find a way to let me make a simple leaderboard post?

* Author’s Edit: It should be noted that this review should have went up last week. Lately, while playing in my spare time, I have had a lot of crushing bugs, including one that forced me to reset the game to defaults to be able to play a campaign again. This tells me that their latest patch was buggy, but I did have to reset once before, something I wrote off as a once-off. I have asked Chillingo for comment, and they have not gotten back to me on this. Therefore, I have no choice but to seriously dock the score of the game due to this issue.

The Scores
Modes: Mediocre
Graphics: Above Average
Sound: Below Average
Gameplay/Control: Mediocre
Replayability: Above Average
Balance: Mediocre
Originality: Poor
Addictiveness: Great
Appeal Factor: Decent
Miscellaneous: Bad

Short Attention Span Summary
Knights Onrush is a good little title for gamers that have a few minutes to burn and a sadistic streak. It reinvents no wheels, but takes the standard castle defense gameplay, and uses the iPhone’s unique control scheme to add a spit-shine to it. Personally, I would wait until another patch comes out before taking on this game, but if the bugs I experienced are fixed, then Knights Onrush is a fun game, and a better overall game than Stick Wars.


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