Have Fun Storming The Castle!
When I first looked at screenshots and read the description of Zen Studios latest project Castlestorm I thought to myself… this looks like it could be a spiritual successor to Rampart, one of the best versus arcade games of all time. In that game you built your defenses in a Tetris-like game then launched attacks on opponent’s castles to try and destroy them. In Castlestorm you can build your own castle and you definitely launch attacks but you do it all in a different was and you do a whole lot more than that. I quickly found myself addicted to this little gem.
I suppose you could call Castlestorm[i] some sort of Tower Defense derivative. Yes, you are essentially playing defense all game but you aren’t really building towers. What you are doing is trying to keep a stream of enemy troops from making it inside you castle and causing havoc. Your standard was of going about that is with a big ballista that you aim and fire (it’s very [i]Angry Birds) in order to mow down said bad guys (and wolves and stuff). You have your standard harpoon, but you eventually can cycle through a range of other projectiles, some of which are optimized for anti-personnel duty and some of which are good for wrecking other castles. Because sometimes you aren’t satisfied with just killing the other army you’ll also feel the need to wreck castles on the other side too, often at the same time as defending your own domain. All the action takes place on a wide 2D battlefield that gives everything a bit of a Worms feel.
Even if the whole game were shooting that ballista I’d probably think it was pretty swell (in a Minis sort of way) but there’s quite a bit more to do here. In addition to the ballista, you’ll have access to both your own army and an array of magic spells. You’ll be able to spend some food (generated by your castle) on recruiting various types of soldiers who will dutifully plod out of your castle toward the enemies, engaging anyone they come across until they eventually fall to attrition. While certain missions will require you to win with these troops, I found they were more or less just there to slow down the enemy tide when you had too much going on.
Magic, on the other hand, is a bit more robust and useful. There’s a range of spells here that do stuff like heal your troops, give them shielding or other buffs and a few other things. The main spell you’ll be hitting up is the one that summons your leader to the battlefield. When you cast that, you can drop Sir Whateverhsnameis anywhere in the path of the enemy and take personal control to either chop guys up with your sword or fire your bow right into their beady eyes. You’ll only get a limited amount of life and even if you manage to avoid getting hit the spell wears off after 30 seconds or so. Everything runs on cooldown timers that range from seconds to what feels like a minute depending on how powerful your attack is or how much you’ve upgraded.
Ah yes, the upgrades. This game is lousy with them. Everything you unlock (missiles, soldiers, spells, castles) all have various upgrades that make them more powerful/cool down faster. You’ll spend gold that you earn from battles or from challenges outside the campaign. Your upgrades are persistent across all modes, which is a nice touch. As you play, new castles unlock that have different room layouts in them. Those rooms have multiple purposes that include determining what units are available to you, adding gold and other bonuses or even speeding up cooldowns. These rooms are all upgradable, and those of you who are into customizing and building will be delighted to know that you can construct your own castles using the rooms and various other stone bits to make a giant “A” or a ranch house or just a traditional set of walls and towers.
There is a campaign that’s about 50 missions or so and does a good job of mixing up the focus on different aspects of the gameplay. One mission might be straight ballista work, while another might be your hero in an arena and another might just want you to knock down the other castle. There’s actually a pretty lengthy (if goofy) story about the hero and the village and some general buffoonery. Outside the campaign there is also a pair of survival modes (ballista and hero) along with a skirmish mode for just goofing off.
Then there is the multiplayer! Really the fun is blasting your buddy, and not an AI. Castlestorm supports online versus so you can try and topple the towers with terror, and there are also survival and hero survival modes where you can compete head-to-head with a pal to see who can survive longer. You can actually find a few people still playing online (although they are all masters) but if you bring along a friend that works the best.
Castlestorm is a game that takes a bunch of small ideas you’ve seen other places and wraps them all together in a really fun package. On their own each part is a passable time-waster game, but when you can shift between those different modules and it’s all wrapped up with a solid upgrade system and an unexpectedly fleshed out story backing it. It works well both on your TV and in your hand as both versions have identical feature sets. Zen Studios has a track record of supporting their releases with a steady stream of affordable DLC so expect to see a couple of new packs filled with challenges and castles coming down the pipe soon. While this is a game that you might overlook, you should take the time to go back and check this one out if you haven’t.