There may not be a videogame name more generic than ‘CastleStorm’. It’s not even that accurate, either. ‘CastleBreak’ is more like it. Perhaps ‘CastleBlowUp’ suits? Crappy naming conventions aside, CastleStorm’s amalgamation of tower defense strategy and Angry Birds’ wanton desire for structural destruction makes a better and more accessible case for itself than its characterless title ever possibly could.
The underlying premise of CastleStorm is this: defend your castle and repel the aggressors trying to break it down or steal your base’s flag whilst simultaneously doing the same to your opposition. If a castle is completely destroyed or a flag is ferried to an enemy HQ, it’s game over. In this most lively and typical set-up, the side-facing action symmetrically pits you against an opposing castle with the very same defensive and offensive burdens. More than anything, CastleStorm lays heavy importance on being able to multi-task different roles at a constantly demanding (but not too demanding) pace; and executing on your chosen patterns of play is easily understood after just a few short primers. To guide you along, the game’s primary single-player campaign is also interspersed with specific challenges to help bolster familiarisation with your developing arsenal before the more substantive full-on battles crop up. Thankfully, these sections are brief and don’t coddle you anymore than necessary.
Your most direct offensive tool is an indestructible ballista affixed to the top of your castle’s gate. Analogue control over the ballista means you have total ownership of what projectiles you fling at your enemy’s utilities as well as how often you dispense them. Despite exact precision never being truly required, control when aiming can sometimes prove somewhat iffy with thumbsticks at the helm. Each of your five projectiles has an associated cooling timer attached as well, meaning the most devastating weapons (like a Worms-inspired torpedo sheep of sorts) cannot be spammed ad nauseum. Arcing a wall-busting bomb to collide with the most crucial supports of the opposing castle is naturally ideal; whereas a stream of A.I.-controlled ground troops marching towards your base are especially vulnerable to hails of stones landing on their fragile collective heads. Likewise, you can summon your own variety of creep-like soldiers to fight back and potentially pick up and capture the enemy flag. As well as having access to secondary support with healer classes and such, some of the more luxurious and resource-intensive allies like damage-sponge trolls and belligerent dragons are late-game benefits that ramp up the back-and-forth nature of things quite nicely. These additions never overcrowd the map or handicap your ability to manage the events in front of you. The mapping of these options (which also includes useful magic attacks) to the controller’s face buttons and bumpers for switching units also makes a good deal of practical sense and quickly becomes second nature as a result.
Similarly to Angry Birds, your castle is made up of distinct physics-based structural parts and individual rooms that eventually crumble when hit with a well-placed projectile. Your castle’s rooms also houses your load of troops – if your Paladin troop room is destroyed, for instance, your ability to send out any number of attack-focused Paladins is lost for that match. Strategically scoping out certain enemy rooms to destroy with this in mind is valid if slightly belittled by the most valuable rooms generally being the most secure anyway. Along these lines, the game also features an interesting custom creator mode allowing you to build your own unique structures to best suit your defensive style. That said, unless you want to fall into the minutiae of your castle’s detailed infrastructure, a generous host of pre-fab castles tend to do the job just fine. Most importantly of all, however, is the rightfully satisfying annihilation of your enemy’s entire castle; even more so when you deal a last-ditch blow that reduces the majority of its rooms to cartoony rubble. Without this feeling at the core of victory, much of CastleStorm’s appeal would be diminished – the busywork that comes before these moments is still fun in its own right, but it’s really all in service of witnessing the fatal pay-off of levelling a castle from top to bottom and ultimately winning the match.
Mission performance is graded on factors like accuracy and speed of completion (denoted by leaderboards), and you also accrue gold to spend on upgrades improving rates of damage and speed. Although when you only have, say, a finite number of projectile-based weapons to bring into a mission, funnelling your hard-earned gold largely revolves around min-maxing your most successful weapon at the expense of toying with others. Of course you always retain the choice to dump gold into whatever you like at any time (until different options unlock, that is), and the game’s laid-back difficulty makes it viable to simply go with what works for you. Plus, a range of purchasable equipment buffs allowing for perks such as increased army sizes and faster troop regeneration on top of the aforementioned weapons upgrades helps add an appreciable level of depth to your larger tactical considerations.
Solid co-op-friendly survival modes pulled from parts of said campaign exist alongside competitive multiplayer, too. Adversarial combat between two people replicates the basic stand-offish format found in the single-player content and translates really well. Being forced to face the usual viewing angle with a right-sided castle is initially a tad jarring after having played so much of the game on the opposite side, but it’s hardly insurmountable. A World of Warcraft-inspired style punctuates much of CastleStorm’s own aesthetic make-up as well as its humour-driven cutscenes (quality of the latter notwithstanding, mind you). The cutesy veneer is a little played out for a fantasy-themed game of whatever type, although it fits all the same.
CastleStorm represents the best of its muses’ ideals – namely those belonging to the tower defense genre and Angry Birds – and fuses them into something specially made and distinctly enjoyable. Minor quirks don’t leave a damaging impression, either, which can’t be said for every joyously destroyed playhouse castle you’ll come into contact with along the way.
Reviewed on Xbox 360; game provided by Zen Studios
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