Zen Studio’s brand spanking new tower defense game “CastleStorm” storms its way on the Xbox LIVE Arcade today, and the developers claim the title is based on the old-age childhood favourite game of Lego where much fun is to be had building and destroying Lego Castles! If that was a personal favourite for you growing up, or well – even now still (admit it) – then you might find some enjoyment to CastleStorm, but I’d rather prefer to say it resembles the lovechild of last year’s “Summer of Arcade” Kinect game Wreckateer and the massively popular Angry Birds from Rovio. There’s a lot of fun to be had destroying other people’s property; not that we’re encouraging you to break the law, but within the gaming world there comes a sense of satisfaction when you can see your enemies diminishing before you. Also, touching on the subject of Lego, I actually cannot remember building Lego castles because for me it was all about houses and spaceships that I dare anyone to destroy!
Although as a tower defense brawler the main aim within CastleStorm is to defend your castle whilst taking down a wave of oncoming enemies and their own castle, there’s a unique mix of gameplay variation wrapped up in the middle of all the action where different characters and weapons come into play to suit how you wish to defend and attack. It’s not over-complex to master as we’ll discuss later on, but starting with the Single Player campaign it’s presented as a comical story of Knights vs. Vikings over 12 levels where medieval warfare meets 2D physics-based destruction! You can learn to harness the power of medieval artillery, manage ground attacks with your own army, and cast powerful offensive and defensive spells. Each level starts with the two main factions on opposite sides of the 2D map, each with their own castle and then the battle of the two-sides commences. The gameplay variations of CastleStorm which perhaps make the game stand out from its genre competition is that “you” can choose how to defeat your enemies with the means of capturing the enemy flag, destroying their castle, or some of the other predetermined level objectives. All of this is in order to claim victory and reap the rewards to be able to level up your artillery and army for the next round of enemy onslaught. Gameplay requires strategy whilst using limited resources to defend and attack combined.
Linking back to where I couldn’t help but feel a sense of Angry Birds about CastleStorm, your main weapon is a Ballista (slingshot-esque-weapon) attached to the front of your castle, with this you take aim at the enemy armies striking towards you with your projectiles and shoot them to death, or accurately try to strike the enemy castle in the far distance until it tumbles down. This also is a similar approach that Wreckateer had – all about taking aim at the enemy castle and destroying it, but there is a greater sense of control in CastleStorm as you can seamlessly switch between using the Ballista, placing your varied strenght Knights and Swordsmen on the front line or using spells to your advantage. The Ballista can project a range of deadly arrows, Javelins, Harpoons and even Sheep! Your Troops will also fight on the front line as they come face to face with the enemy Trolls and Dragons en-route to bash the door down off your castle and storm into your territory, and finally spells provide offensive and defensive magic to aid your survival. One such magical conjuring ability is the Heavenly Sword, casting this spell brings down several sharp swords over a troop of your choice and slices them – or alternatively a Projectile Shield can be called upon to block incoming enemy projectiles. Not everything is unlocked all at once, as the game teases you in gently gradually unlocking more and more abilities as you progress through it, whilst campaign to me really seems to be a great learning tool in preparation before taking your battle online over Xbox LIVE where the determination to win is more personal against a real person.
Taking CastleStorm online over Xbox LIVE will present to you three game options of Versus, Survival and Hero Survival where Versus is the two-sided all out war as you oppose each other, Survival is a wave based game to survive the enemy Viking onslaught – or if you opt for the Co-op mode you can play Survival Co-op where two players can team up online to fight off waves of enemies together. One player can control the Ballista whilst the other can control enemy armies on the ground. Good timing and great aim are essential in Survival Co-op as friendly fire could be harmful to your own troops! Finally Hero Survival is a wave based game type where your hardened Battle Heroes are tested in the battle grounds – forget the Ballista, it’s strictly close combat only with enemies coming from either side of the screen.
Going back to the mention of Lego building again, CastleStorm features a level editor that allows you to build and create your own custom castles that will be used in battle, including online multiplayer battle. The developers advise that “Castles must be constructed wisely, as choices determine which types of troops and resources will be available during battle!” The best way to think of the editor is a 2D forge mode, your castle blueprints will be shown across a graph sheet with room options and accurate positioning. It’s fairly straight forward and intuitive to use with options for structural and main-gates design, but it’s also pretty neat to build an amazing castle and then put it to the test before adding it to your collection of grand designs for online battle. However, if you’re not the creative type then you can use the many pre-designed castles included that has been sampled in the campaign mode.
Visually CastleStorm is sharp, bright with a comic-book feel to reflect a comical story about the Knights and Vikings fiasco over special gems in the basic plotline, the main purpose of battle. It’s a novelty Tower Defense game that is appropriately priced at 800 MS Points too, but I’m not convinced the novelty will last long. If you can master the art of strategic gameplay combined with managing limited resources without taking your eyes off the battleground – this is the game for you! If you’re after something deep and meaningful or more platform orientated then definitely keep your distance from its cartoonish charm. Definitely recommended to download the demo on Xbox LIVE before committing to a purchase; CastleStorm is a decent enough game, but unless you’re a fan or familiar with Tower defense titles you will likely get bored pretty quickly.