Pros: Original, mixed-genre gameplay, delightful presentation.
Cons: Some magic icons are a bit uninformative.
It’s always a bit perplexing to come across a game that doesn’t fit into a neat box. Take CastleStorm, which is often referred to as “tower defense meets Angry Birds” even though it only very loosely follows the conventions of either. Personally, I’d describe it as a real-time strategy game with elements from beat’em ups, 2D shooters, and yes, a little bit of Angry Birds. Ultimately what matters is not what you call it but how much fun it is to play, and on that score CastleStorm acquits itself very well indeed.
Developed and published by: Zen Studios
Genre: Real-time strategy+
For ages: 13 and up
Platform: Wii U (eShop)
Release Date: December 26, 2013
The Story: Vikings Attack!
CastleStorm tells the tale of a Viking attack on a neighboring kingdom in a series of comical vignettes featuring military leader Sir Gareth and a variety of friends and kibitzers. I am often annoyed by text-only conversations, so the game deserves special mention for how painlessly it handles the lack of voice-actors. Story segments are brief and characters never have much to say so the player never needs to page through line after line of expository dialogue. There is a wonderful efficiency in the storytelling, which is used primarily to set up the next mission objective.
The Gameplay: Soldiers, Projectiles, Castles, and a Bunch of Other Stuff
CastleStorm is a 2D game, and most missions involve two castles and a series of troops traveling from one castle to the other while artillery weapons fire at the both troops and castle.
You can win a battle either by destroying the enemy’s castle or stealing their battle flag, which involves breaking down the castle gate and carting the flag back home.
Players can perform a variety of actions. First off, you select which soldiers to send outside the castle, choosing from standard troops like archers and paladins as well as more exotic combatants like golems and giant eagles that swoop down on enemies. These troops are generated in rooms within your castle, and if a room is destroyed, you lose access to that particular soldier class.
You also control the ballista, a medieval weapon that fires a variety of projectiles, ranging from simple arrows that can take down enemies to bombs, rocks, and sheep (yes, sheep), as well as a potion that converts an enemy to your side.
There are some spells as well, such as one that briefly makes one of your soldiers invulnerable and another that attacks enemies with magical swords. And if you want to get more hands on, you can, as Sir Gareth, jump onto the battlefield, firing arrows and slashing enemies until your time runs out. (There are also side missions entirely centered around Gareth’s combat skills.)
As you progress, you gain new weapons, soldier types, and special castle bonuses as well as gold that can be used to improve weapons and powers. You also get access to new castles that incorporate a selection of soldiers and bonuses, and if you don’t like any of the available castles you can use the castle editor to swap in and out rooms or change design elements.
There are, as you can tell, a lot of moving parts to CastleStorm (which can also be played against another player local or online), and that can be daunting, even though the game does a good job of easing you into its many features. Some magic powers I generally ignored because I kept forgetting which icons mean what. Capturing flags is tough; you need combatants to clear the way before a soldier can grab the flag, and relief soldiers to carry it forward when the current flag holder falls. Even when a bonus was offered for capturing the flag, I often found myself having more luck with pure destruction.
Why I’m Dubious About the Angry Birds/Tower Defense Comparisons
Destroying castles is what draws comparisons between CastleStorm and Angry Birds. There are some similarities, such as projectiles that can be given a last-minute push with the A button, but there are more differences. Castles are not rickety puzzle boxes, they’re castles, and you are shown the flight arc of each weapon before you fire.
In the same way, I think this is a tower defense game only in the sense that you’re defending a tower. The TD games I’ve played have always involved placing automatic defense devices along a path traversed by enemies, and that’s certainly not what this game is, although perhaps the genre is more elastic than I believe.
Verdict: A Unique, Enthralling Game
While the developer’s everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to game design could have easily resulted in an unwieldy mess, somehow it all holds together. Aided by fun graphics, a rousing score, and its pleasantly goofy presentation, CastleStorm proves to be a fun game regardless of what box you want to put it in.