Clash Royale is a wickedly popular tower defense game that's spawned a million imitators on the iTunes App Store, because of its high replayability, manageable layers of tactics and strategy, and smoothmore
Clash Royale is a wickedly popular tower defense game that's spawned a million imitators on the iTunes App Store, because of its high replayability, manageable layers of tactics and strategy, and smooth operation on older iPhones and iPads. But because of the imitators, it can be hard to find a game like it that stands on its own. We battled our way through the App Store to come up with five gems like Clash Royale -- all of which have minimized or non-existent ads and in-app transactions.
Bowmasters strips away the armies and castles, leaving you with a single ranged fighter duelling another. There's a lot of distance between you two, and you'll need to figure out the angle and power of your shot, like in Angry Birds where the birds shoot back. Direct hits are rewarded with comically violent impacts, but they also knock your enemy back, requiring readjustment of your aim. The better you do in these matches, the more coins you earn, which you can use to unlock more characters -- like a zombie astronaut, mime, or a glam rocker -- and weapons like a chainsaw, harpoon, Molotov cocktail, or a mini unicorn. It's that kind of game.
Bowmasters is free to play with ads, which you can pay $3.99 to remove. We found its ads low-key and its in-app purchases unnecessary to experience the full breadth of the game. You also get a free loot chest periodically, from which you can collect a randomized range of coins and sometimes a character.
You can get Iron Marine at the App Store for $4.99, with in-app purchases to buy game currency and additional hero units. You start with two heroes and must purchase the rest, but the rest are not required to progress through the game -- they just offer different abilities that may be more tailored to your play style. Their prices range from $2.99 to $6.99, or you can get all eight extra heroes for $14.99. The game has ads, but they're completely optional.
Before Iron Marines, Iron Hide Game Studio made Kingdom Rush, a pretty straightforward tower defense (TD) game that has you building towers and summoning troops along a road where you need to take out the bad guys before they march to the end of it. Unlike most mobile games of this type, Kingdom Rush does not try to funnel you into a steady stream of in-app purchases. You can buy currency, but it's not necessary for maintaining a sense of progression.
You can buy additional hero units, but their specific skills are not essential to any particular mission. They range in price from 99 cents to $4.99, and there are three that unlock during the course of the game for free. If things get too challenging, there are three difficulty modes available. Ultimately, Kingdom Rush remains one of the best wallet-friendly TD games on the App Store, with lively art and animation, and plenty of combat scenarios to play around with.
Redcon is kind of like a side-scrolling, post-apocalyptic version of Clash Royale, if you're looking for something moodier. It looks like Bowmasters or Scorched Earth on the surface, but you don't decide your aim or how hard you want to fire a projectile. Instead, your hits and misses are based on a dice roll that happens behind the scenes. And there are no turns -- it all happens in real time. This lets you focus more on unit tactics; for example, different types of ammo can damage, incapacitate, or increase your fire rate. Meanwhile, you can bring in a blimp to carry a few troops over the kill zone and into the enemy fortress. But which troops will you choose? You need to keep a few behind to help run operations, but you also need enough attackers to mount an effective infantry assault. If you start to feel overwhelmed, you can always tap in the middle of the screen to pause the action.
The App Store offers a free trial of 18 missions, and there's an in-app purchase of $2.99 to get the rest of the game. We did not encounter any ads during our playthrough. Characters and buildings in Redcon are relatively small compared to the battle area, so playing on a tablet will let you see them closer up.
In Tiny Guardians, you defend a character who moves around the map, instead of a tower. She's a wizard who can summon knights, archers, magicians, and other unit types to protect her against a variety of enemies. She can also heal her friends and cast fireballs at the bad guys. The better you do, the more points you get to upgrade your group's abilities, and your guys can level up during a mission, giving them more health and damage. There's a pretty good in-game tutorial that explains the basics of game mechanics and touch screen controls. The artwork is very stylized and charming, but we'd recommend a tablet, because the units are indeed tiny, so you could miss a lot of detail in the artwork if you play on a phone.
Tiny Guardians is $4.99 in the App Store, with no ads. The in-app purchases are limited to additional special units -- there's no buyable currency, loot boxes, or energy meters to deal with.