Tower defence games tend to be love or hate affairs. Some people find the managing of various troops and weapons strategically challenging and others find the onslaught of wave after wave of enemies tedious. Generally, though I enjoy strategy, I fall into the latter category and get bored after a while.
CastleStorm made me re-evaluate my opinion on the genre though. Its clever blend of physics-based play and tower defence, with a bit of melee action thrown in for good measure, means the game is kept fresh and varied for much longer.
There is a story but you’ll have forgotten it by the time you get past the first few levels. It’s fairly irrelevant and the game would progress just as well without it. Knights versus Vikings – that’s really all you need to know. I was disappointed that I didn’t get to pick a side. “I want to be a Viking!” I cried, stamping my feet and pouting. But I was soon so swept up in the game that I forgot about my little tantrum and when, at the end of the campaign, it was revealed that you start again as the Vikings, well, I was just delighted.
Everything is kept light hearted with tongues firmly in cheeks throughout. The characters are charming and there are more than a few modern cultural references that will probably make you geek out with joy. Game of Thrones and Skyrim are just two examples, and an homage to Worms even appears in the form of flatulent sheep that you can throw at your enemy. In other words, there’s something for everyone.
The items available to you at the beginning of the game are minimal and you are eased into the controls gently. With good reason because before long the screen will be filled with flying javelins, rocks and sheep with troops marching on each others castles relentlessly. Despite the chaos onscreen you never feel overwhelmed. You control everything with the touch of a button. Literally – the action buttons are each designated to one element of your army e.g. troops, ballista, spells and defence. Bumper buttons let you switch between the different options so you can choose javelins for ballista or feed your troops to keep their strength up.
It all works seamlessly and once you’ve figured out where everything is, you’ll be giving out orders and crushing your enemies like a real general. (Not really but you do feel pretty smug when you’ve completed a level) The only downside I found with the controls was the ballista itself. Aiming in the heat of battle wasn’t easy and even though you can make minor adjustments with the D-pad, I found it to be slow and awkward. I soon abandoned it and just learnt to control my widely swinging ballista on its own. It’s not a major gripe and considering the fluidity of the other controls, it can certainly be overlooked.
As well as sending your troops in to capture the enemy’s flag, bombarding their castle and defending your own keep, you unlock spells as you go along. These range between regenerating your troop’s health, raining heavenly swords down upon marauding Vikings and sending a Hero into the midst of battle to engage in hand to hand combat. The melee controls are pretty basic but they provide a nice distraction from the firing and ordering. Your time on the battlefield is limited though so you don’t end up spending the whole time there and neglecting your castle.
Weapons, troops and spells are unlocked and can be upgraded as the game goes on, giving you some control over how you approach a battle. This is more soft-core RPG though and doesn’t really involve too much thought. It’s as if the developers don’t really want you to spend too much time away from the actual game which is fair enough considering how much time they’ve spent perfecting it.
You can also modify your castle in a Lego-builder type screen. New rooms are available as you go on but to be honest I was quite happy with the default settings which seemed to be pretty well laid out. In the game you have the ability to destroy certain rooms in your enemy’s castle. This will prevent production of whatever is being made in that room. I found this to be a good touch as the same is true in reverse. You can’t feed your troops if the food production has stopped. This ensures that you mustn’t spend too long focused on one element of the battle – you need to keep an eye on everything.
Considering how hectic the action can be it surprised me that I didn’t come across any glitches or hiccups during my playing time. The game is laid out side on but the animations are still 3D and very smooth, from the way a farting sheep sails haplessly through the air to the way your Hero struts with macho charisma onto the battlefield. It’s easy to zoom in on different parts of the screen to see what’s going without worrying that the screen is going to freeze up or stutter.
Apart from the shouts of troops during battle, there are no voice overs. Text is used for the dialogue cut scenes but it doesn’t take anything away from your experience. The accompanying music blends well with what’s happening on screen, with gentler notes for the humorous dialogue and fast-paced dramatic tones for the action. It helps keep you in the moment when you might otherwise be lost with everything that is going on.
There is plenty to keep you occupied during the campaign mode with objectives in each level and the OCD types will no doubt have fun trying to get all those lovely shiny stars. Multiplayer includes Survival and Skirmish modes in both local co-op and online. The co-op is a bit frustrating with the split screen as everything is squashed up so I would advise online play where you don’t have to share.
True to its name, Survival mode pits you against hordes of enemies and if you’re playing with someone else, one person will defend the castle with the ballista while the other person will be fighting on the battlefield as a Hero. Skirmish is a “capture the flag” game where you must storm the enemy’s castle. Though not as in depth as the campaign mode, they are a fun way to pass the time.
It dawned on me at some point that the developers, Zen Studios, were responsible for the highly addictive pinball games. I’ve lost a lot of time to the Star Wars one and this could explain how they’ve managed to create something equally addictive in CastleStorm. There are worse ways you could waste time though. This is a well-designed, smart game but most of all it’s fun. While I love dark storylines that present you with meaningful decisions to make, it’s actually quite nice to be swept away in something that doesn’t take itself too seriously and puts the emphasis clearly on entertaining.
MLG Rating: 8/10 Format: PC / PlayStation 3 / Xbox 360 Release Date: 26/11/2013
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a copy of Castlestorm for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of 5 days on a PlayStation 3. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.