Developer: Zen Studios
Players: 1 - 2 Co-op/Competitive
Platform: Xbox 360
Genre: Tower Defense, Brawling
CastleStorm, developed by Zen Studios, is an interesting blend of tower defense, physics based destruction and side scrolling brawling action. The primary goal, in most cases, is to defend your castle while also completing a set objective. While this objective most often consists of destroying the enemies castle, there are a variety of other objectives which do a fine job of keeping things from getting boring too quick. No matter the objective, however, all of this is achieved through the use of a ballista fixed atop the gate to your castle, magical spells, and a variety of soldiers which can be summoned to the battlefield.
Upon entering the campaign, the first thing that the player will come across is a menu which allows them to set the difficulty, choose a castle, and upgrade pretty much everything. They must choose 5 projectiles, 5 spells, 5 soldier types, and any number of desired bonus rooms.
Upgrades are purchased via the use of in game coins which are earned by completing objectives, killing enemy troops and destroying the enemy castle. These upgrades, while they do not transform anything, will raise the stats of projectiles, magic, and soldiers as well as increase any bonus' received from the various rooms which can be placed within your castle. It is impossible to acquire all of these upgrades on one play-through, but this adds quite a bit of replay-ability for those want to build the most formidable forces. All upgrades, of course, are persistent through all play-throughs.
In addition, players are given a choice of 16 castles, which will be unlocked as they play through the campaign, as well a castle editing tool. While it may be safe to choose any of these 16 unlock-able castles, one of the more interesting parts of the game is actually building the ones own castle. Players can choose any desired barracks for the various soldiers and rooms which grant various bonus' such as faster food generation, stronger walls, and shorter cool-down times. Destruction of castles is handled well, though is very simplistic and is pretty much the 'Angry Birds' style of destruction, which isn't really a bad thing. There is a good bit of fun to be had here by any player who wants to build an army capable of pushing through any defense, withstanding any attack.
The most important source of the players offensive and defensive capabilities is the ballista. Using this ballista, players can fire a wide variety of projectiles to kill enemy soldiers or destroy the opposing castle. These projectiles range from a simple javelin which is best used for picking off foot soldiers, to a 'tri-stone' which, when activated, splits into 3 parts and is absolutely devastating when it comes to tearing down castle walls, all of which have a cool-down period which varies based on their effectiveness. There is even a sheep that blasts through enemy fortifications when activated, leaving a rainbow behind it, but has a much longer cool-down period. All of these projectiles use the same firing arc, keeping the game from becoming unduly difficult, but restricting what could have been an interesting multi-player mechanic. Overall, the ballista is what players will find themselves using most of the time when it comes to pretty much anything.
Even the most effective weapons are not without their faults, however. The problem with the ballista is that when fired in rapid succession, the aiming arc disappears completely. At that point, players must rely solely upon the arc of the last shot you fired and adjust accordingly, which isn't the most accurate process. This could, perhaps, be viewed as a good thing since it encourages the player to take their time while using the ballista, even being removed all together on the hardest difficulty. However, firing too fast does NOT decrease the accuracy of the weapon, it simply removes the aiming arc. If it's going to be there on lower difficulties to assist the player, why bother taking it away when less experienced players need it most?
One of the more useless tools at the players disposal is their magic. While one might think that something like the 'Heavenly Sword', which deals significant damage to an enemy, or the 'Holy Shield', which protects a friendly soldier for a time, would often come in handy, they simply don't. The ballista is just too powerful a tool if upgraded properly. If there is one spell which does come in handy on the rare occasion, outside of the multi-player, it is the 'Guardian Spirit'. This spell summons an angelic knight to sweep across the field and deal massive amounts of damage all enemies, killing all but the most powerful of them.
The actual brawling aspect of the game comes in the form of a magic which involves summoning a character from the campaign to the battlefield. Players take control of this character who comes with a simple melee attack, a unique ranged attack, and a character specific power attack. There is not much else to say about it considering that, much like the rest of the magic, will rarely come in use outside of the missions which require the use of these characters.
Again, there is simply no need for the magic in most cases since the ballista is so damn powerful.
Soldiers, for the most part, are used to push through opposing enemy forces and tear down the enemy gate (which can ALSO be done by the ballista...) and carry back the enemy flag (which, obviously, cannot be done by the ballista...). The Swordsmen and Paladin will take on enemies in melee combat, whereas the Archer and Catapult Bearer will engage from afar. There are also other creatures which will fill a more unique purpose, though varies little from the more generic soldiers. These include the Griffin which swoops down from above and massacres any troops on the ground, as well as the Stone Golem which can easily defeat most enemies with ease, making it a powerful 'pushing' tool. All troops require a certain amount of food to spawn into the world, a number which regenerates over time, and there is a limit to how many can be alive on the field at any one time.
Fortunately, unlike the magic, troops will definitely come in handy and are, at times, required to complete an objective.
Once the primary objective of a mission is completed, the player is given a rating based on a 5 star system. The number of stars one is rewarded is based on their accuracy, the chosen difficulty, and whether or not they completed the bonus objective for that mission.
In total, there are (insert number) missions. This may seem like quite a bit, but one will soon realize that most missions can easily be completed in under 5 minutes, and that there are quite a few which can be completed in half that, if not less. This is somewhat balanced by the fact that there are two other game modes in addition to the multi-player:
- Survival pits the player against seemingly countless waves of enemies until the enemy eventually break through the players gate and carries their flag back to the enemy base. It is actually pretty difficult and is the place to go if you want a good bit of challenge in this game.
- Hero Survival puts the player in control of one of the main characters of the campaign against waves of enemies who try to get capture the flag which is in the center of the field. Since the brawling aspects of the game are less than complex, there is not too much fun to be had here, unfortunately.
In addition, there is competitive multiplayer which comes in the form of two players trying to tear down each others castles or capture each others flag. It features an upgrade system independent from the campaign which, of course, means that you start off with all projectiles, spells, soldiers and bonus rooms at level one. This is incredibly problematic because the player is often put against someone who is of a much higher level, pretty much guaranteeing a loss. If one is fortunate enough to be paired with those on equal footing a couple of times, however, these is quite a bit of fun to be had in the fast paced battles.
Graphically speaking, the game has a very interesting art direction which, while far from unique, is definitely nice to look at, especially which it comes to the architecture. There is also a fairly memorable soundtrack composed by Waterflame who has worked on a wide variety of projects including Castle Crashers.
CastleStorm's primary campaign mode is lackluster is many ways. Due to the ballistas incredibly powerful nature, as well as the ease with which one can spawn a number of powerful soldiers, there is little variety needed when it comes to strategy. After the first dozen missions or so, I felt that the game became very monotonous. The game is somewhat saved by the competitive multi-player, but unless that pulls you in there is little else which can do so. If there is one good thing that I can say about CastleStorm, however, it is that tearing down the enemy castle IS fun despite the monotonous nature of everything else.