CastleStorm Review

Gaming

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CastleStorm

Developer: Zen Studios
Publisher: Zen Studios
Platforms: XBLA
Release Date: May 29, 2013
Price: 800MSP – Available Here

Overview
CastleStorm is best described as a Tower Defense meets an Angry Birds style physics puzzler. Tower defense games where you spend resources to deploy troops to defend your base are great, they require quick thinking and immediate responses. Physics puzzlers where you launch projectiles at various angles to destroy towers and castles are also great; but they require patience and concentration. CastleStorm melds these two genres together and the end result is not pretty. While deploying units and destroying castles is fun in theory, in practice it just feels like you are rubbing your stomach and patting your head at the same time, with a series of micromanaged tasks that result in a game that doesn’t quite equal the sum of its parts.

Story
After a brutal and bloody war, the Kingdom Knights and the Nordic Vikings have been at peace. This peace was the result of two gems of power being bestowed upon the leaders of the respective factions, protecting their land and granting their owners eternal life. However all goes awry when one day the gems go missing and so war breaks out once again.

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The story here is pretty stock-standard and isn’t a standout feature of the game, the characters are all quite two-dimensional, and the narrative never really serves as more than a way of introducing the next battle, or explaining gameplay changes. An example is early on in the game where the Kingdom troops are all in need of the bathroom, so they are unable to be used in the following battle.

The plus side is that as mild and thin as it may be, at least there is a story. Typically tower defense or physics-puzzle games we get a modest introduction at best. This at least provides a narrative reason for why we as players are laying siege to structures.

Gameplay
There are three game-types in CastleStorm: Skirmish, Survival and Hero Survival, but sadly they usually amount to the player largely doing the same repetitive tasks. The Angry Birds inspiration is clearly noticeable, not only in the castle design but also in many of the weapons which function identically as the birds in the popular mobile franchise.

Skirmish is the standard game mode, where you use your ballista to fire projectiles at the enemy, while also casting spells and deploying ground soldiers to head off the opposing forces and to attempt to break down their doors. The aim is to destroy all of the rooms within the opposing castle before they can do the same to you. All actions have a cool-down timer before they can be used again, with more powerful projectiles and units requiring longer times between uses. You also have the option of sending your Hero Character into battle, where you take control and use their power to defeat the waves of enemy troops for a short amount of time. The Hero Character can be great at clearing the field of enemy soldiers, but as long as you are controlling them, you cannot deploy troops, fire your ballista or use magic which can leave your castle open to some serious damage.

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Survival is a slightly different take on Skirmish, where instead of destroying the opponent’s castle, the aim is to use your soldiers, spells and weapons to defend your castle for as long as you can against waves and waves of enemies. Hero Survival is a variant on this system, but instead of defending your castle you just play as a Hero Character, fighting off waves of enemies until you run out of HP.

The game’s campaign makes use of all three of these game modes, while offering variations between them, such as levels where you don’t have the ability to deploy your soldiers, or where your ballista is not functional. There is actually a fair bit of replayability for those who can stand it, as each of the game’s campaign levels has a series of five stars to collect as well as an optional bonus objective to complete. This is in addition to the nearly endless Skirmish mode, which involves single battles separate from the campaign.

All of the game modes are selected in Multiplayer, which plays out almost identically to the single player experience. However instead of facing against an AI Controlled enemy, you are against another Human but please note that playing in local multiplayer in split-screen can get a bit cluttered.

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As you play the game you earn coins which can be spent to upgrade your arsenal of weapons, soldiers, spells and castle rooms. Upgrading results in your equipment dealing more damage, requiring a shorter cool-down, soldiers having more health or rooms increasing their effects. There is also an in-depth castle builder that allows players to customise one of the pre-set castles to their own look and feel, or to start from scratch. However customising these castles doesn’t amount to anything more than a cosmetic change from the pre-made.

Another complaint is that sometimes the controls can seem quite touchy and sensitive, where a single nudge of the control stick in the wrong direction can have your perfectly aimed shot firing completely off target. There is an option to control your reticule in small increments with the D-Pad, but it just adds another detail to worry about.

Visuals
Zen Studios originally set out to make the game a throwback to when we were children building things out of blocks and then destroying them, and the art goes a long way to show that. Lines are drawn very thick and distinct and there is a lot of colour in this game. It gives off a vibe that is a mixture cartoons and toys you used to play with when you were younger.

However while the art-style is very nice for a game such as this, a lot of the animations (or lack thereof) fall quite flat. Characters all constantly have the same expression on their faces no matter what emotion they are trying to convey, and in the few small instances where there is dialogue in the game, there isn’t any visual indication that a character is talking, just a text box that appears at the bottom of the screen.

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There are also the occasional graphical hiccup, such as the aiming cursor of the ballista just disappearing. It is a minor problem but one that definitely has a profound impact on the game.

For those that have access to a capable TV the stereoscopic 3D actually works quite nicely on this game, with no ghosting and it provides a nice, clean, almost diorama effect on the whole game which isn’t unpleasant to look at.

Audio
The audio, although clean, crisp and delightfully cheerful very quickly becomes repetitive and flat out annoying. Most of the game’s cut-scenes are not fully voice acted, instead with characters talking in a series of grunts and groans while their dialogue is written in the bottom of the screen. During gameplay the same sounds will be heard time and time again, every time you summon one of your soldiers, they will say one of three or four short phrases. The audio really doesn’t add to the overall experience, and after a few minutes playing it in fact starts to detract from it.

Overall
CastleStorm has a lot of great elements and it wears its inspiration on its sleeve. Unfortunately the game just feels like a series of micromanaging tasks. It suffers from being an amalgamation of two almost polar-opposite genres. Requiring the player to be both calculated and accurate while also being impulsive and reactionary makes for a game that is not only frustrating, but inconsistent and frankly just not that good.

4-5-capsules-out-of-10

Capsule Computers review guidelines can be found here.

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