CastleStorm is the Tower Defense/Physics puzzler amalgamation that appeared on Xbox Live and PSN mid last year. Now it has made its way to the Wii U with a few exclusive additions. Sadly these additions don’t make the experience much different from the originals.
Tower Defense games have you spending your accrued resources to deploy troops and other objects to defend your base require quick thinking and immediate responses. Physics puzzlers are on the opposite end of the spectrum and often require patience, concentration and a keen eye.The amalgamation of these two genres creates an experience that is a lot less fun than the sum of its parts and frequently leaves you feeling like you are rubbing your stomach and patting your head at the same time. The Wii U’s GamePad allows for a lot of off-screen controls and more precise movements than its older counterparts but still don’t make the game feel or play any better
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Wii U GamePad allows for some new additions to the control schemes. As expected, there is off-tv play on the GamePad’s screen, however taking the already cluttered game and putting it onto a smaller screen is just a recipe for disaster. What is more helpful is the addition of the touch-controls. You can use the Wii U’s stylus to select your units and aim your ballistas. This helps to overcome the game’s clumsy and unresponsive controls, as well as giving you a brand new level of accuracy.
Visuals & Audio
Zen Studios have made a game that is hugely reminiscent of the building blocks and figurines that so many of us played with growing up and the visual design goes a long way to show that. The lines and detailing of the characters and world are all very thick and the world is vibrantly coloured, which when combined give a very cartoony feel to everything.
While the art-style is very nice and cheerful, a lot of the animations (or lack thereof) are quite flat and uninspired. Characters all constantly have the same facial expression, no matter what emotion the story calls for, and the small dialogue-sections of the game lack any visual indication that the character is talking aside from a text box at the bottom of the screen. It makes the game look and feel more like you are playing with blocks and toys, but even so just looks bland and boring.
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.
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.
CastleStorm is an ambitious game that wears its inspiration on its sleeve. While the Wii U version adds a few new features to prove the overall experience, unfortunately the combination tower defense/physics puzzler works about as well as mixing oil and water. The game devolves into a cluttered mess of micromanaging tasks. There is a lot of content here for players who may be interested but all in all it is a frustrating, inconsistent and overall underwhelming experience.
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