As a gamer, it’s nice to have developers that you can count on for creating great games and content. Quite often, developers become known for a certain game series or genre. And so it becomes easy to think of DICE as “the Battlefield guys”, or Bethesda as “the action/adventure RPG guys”. Likewise, it would have been easy to think of Zen Studios as “the pinball guys”. And sure, their most notable work, at least the most prolific, has been Pinball FX and it’s spawn. But today, Zen Studios carves a new notch into its development record with 2D physics-destruction tower defense action game (it’s hard to put this one into a specific genre) CastleStorm.
CastleStorm has several modes of play including Versus multiplayer and Co-op modes. I suggest playing through the campaign first as a sort of tutorial and to unlock other modes and features.
In the CastleStorm Campaign, there are two factions that have fought for ages, until the Goddess of Peace sent down two Gems, one for each side of the battle. The Gems provided peace for a time, but now violence and treachery are brewing like mead.
CastleStorm’s graphics are simple but charming. Characters throughout the game are silly looking and have exaggerated features. The colors are bright and rich and the 3D models, while simple in polygon count, look good due to the design. Frame rate stays high even when many on the screen are moving.
It would be an injustice to review CastleStorm and not mention Waterflame, the man behind the music. The music selection shows his range and provides the uplifting, light-hearted feel that a game about killing Vikings with farting sheep needs.
The Sound effects are clear and fitting for the gameplay. They are not overly complex or realistic. The mix is great and there are audio cues and voices to let you know when an enemy is at your gate, or when your flag gets captured, among other things.
There is no voice acted dialog once you get into the game. All of the voices are simple words or grunts that complement the text on-screen. The voices in the game seemed to cheapen the experience at first, but it became enduring to hear the lines reused to subtle effect during various scenes. It became almost like an inside joke created by the game itself.
Reading about how to play CastleStorm won’t match up to playing CastleStorm, but I’ll try to describe how it works at the risk of making it sound complicated (it’s not, once you get the hang of it).
The basic rules are this: There are two sides of the battle, each player (or AI opponent) has a fortress on the far end of the level, either the left side or the right. Each fortress has a ballista (essentially a large crossbow) that can fire different types of projectiles from the basic javelin, to a triple-shot javelin, to an exploding apple (is this supposed to be like a pineapple grenade minus the ‘pine’). The A button is used to both bring up the projectile selection screen and to fire the selected projectile.
The ballistae (plural form of ballista, thanks wikipedia) are then used to volley shots at one another to destroy the enemy’s castle or to kill their troops.
Troops are summoned with the X button. The first press of X will bring up the soldier select screen and the LB and RB buttons will cycle left and right through your options, just like the projectile screen as well as the “Spells” screen. Each type of troop has different abilities, there are common sword wielding infantry, archers, priests who can heal, strong warriors, Griffins, and Golems and more.
The Y button will bring up your ability to cast a spell, either to attack or to heal/defend. You can also use the Y button to summon your “Hero”. All of the other troop types are AI controlled, but you control your Hero, X to standard attack, A to jump, B to charge your sword for a strong attack. Holding RB will bring up your Hero’s bow and allow you to aim and shoot arrows in the same fashion as the ballista controls on your castle.
Every move you make, whether it be to summon troops, cast spells or fire projectiles requires a cool down time, so you can’t spam certain powerful attacks. Each kill that you make earns you Gold, which you can use to purchase upgrades for your castle, your troops, or your Hero. There are a lot of upgrades, so you will be busy boosting your army’s stats for a while. All of these upgrades are persistent, so that you can buff your hero, and then take him back to the early levels and clean up, earn all five stars and top the leaderboards.
You will use all of these abilities to defeat your opponent, and victory can come from one of two ways. Either one team’s gate is destroyed and their flag is captured, or the castle is completely destroyed.
During the main campaign, these rules get bent and twisted to make for some interesting scenarios, like your troops striking for better working conditions, requiring you to complete a level with no soldiers, or perhaps you need to provide cover fire for your allies until they return to your fortress. Watch out for friendly fire!
CastleStorm lets you tackle friends in split-screen, or even work together in Co-op survival. The online component brings both matchmaking and private games and is a great 1 on 1 experience.
While the campaign is a fun experience with great pacing, there are other single player modes that you can play for fun or to get more Gold. Hero Survival is sure to be a favorite. In Hero Survival, there are no castles, just your Hero and waves of enemies trying to capture your flag from the center of the arena. The variety of enemy types keeps things fresh, so it doesn’t feel like you are killing the same few baddies.
CastleStorm even includes a Castle Editor, with simple intuitive controls. There are many preset castle types, but if you want more say-so into how your Keep gets kept, you can build your own.
CastleStorm offers much to do, alone, with a friend, or against a foe. The physics are simple but solid. Launching javelins and Apple Grenades is fun, but the true joy comes when the enemy castle crumbles to the ground. There are three difficulty levels, Casual, Normal, and Hard. They are perfectly balanced with Hard being a good challenge (especially at later levels) and Casual being easy enough for just about anybody.
The asking price is a paltry 800 Microsoft Points (10 bucks). With this much value, we enthusiastically recommend CastleStorm.