It seems that Tolkien-esque high fantasy tropes are second only to testosterone-fuelled space marines in their ubiquitous prevalence throughout gaming, but Zen Studios’ charming tower offense romp CastleStorm is about as far removed from the self-assuredly epic plains of Skyrim or the gritty sword and sorcery of the Witcher series as George RR Martin’s bellybutton is from his waistline.
The story opens with the obligatory Galadriel sound-a-like spouting rhyming prophecy about crystals, fate, and ancient battles, and lasts precisely one second less than it would take for you to get bored before introducing the hilariously pompous Sir Gareth, who you’ll be following throughout much of the game. You’ll meet a host of other characters along the way, and even though you’ll never find yourself particularly invested in their fate, you’ll certainly end up wanting to see more of them. It’s likely you won’t give a flagon of mead about whether you save this kingdom or not, but when war is this much fun, who needs peace?
Much like the fantasy settings from which it draws upon, CastleStorm‘s gameplay doesn’t tread any especially new ground. Battles consist of the player employing one of three mechanics, all of which have been seen before, but it’s the frantic fun of combining these mechanics on the fly which makes the game such a joy to play. Players win battles in one of two ways, either by destroying the opponents castle, or by capturing their flag. To do this, you’re given manual control of a ballista-type projectile launcher, the operation of which is similar to Angry Birds or Worms, along with the ability to spawn a variety of troop types to the battlefield. Players also have the option to summon an extremely powerful hero unit, which you’ll control manually, gleefully cutting and shooting your way through swathes of enemy units. In gameplay terms, this all amounts to a riotous mash-up of shooter, real-time strategy, and beat em’up. It’s absolutely every bit as chaotic in motion as it sounds on paper, and it’s awesome.
Initially, controls feel a little cumbersome, as there’s so much going on here it takes a little while to adjust, but you’ll be switching between the different options with fluid ease within no time. Alongside your actions in battle, there’s also troop, weapon, spell and castle upgrades to consider. Although you can stumble through on normal difficulty without too much trouble, CastleStorm has the potential to be an extremely in-depth experience if you choose to experiment with different combinations, and strategy fans will find a lot to love here, even though the game might appear a casual button- masher on the surface. Not that it doesn’t offer plenty of opportunities to give your fingers a good workout – battles can turn into an absolute cacophony at times, and quick fingers are required just as much as quick thinking.
The whole thing also looks and sounds great. It’s cartoony for sure, but the whimsical art style fits well with the humorous tone of the campaign, and there’s a surprising amount of attention paid to tiny details, like arrows temporarily sticking into shields, that add a lot to the experience. Sound is also stellar throughout, every satisfying crash of a projectile making contact with an enemy wall, or the metallic clash of weapons ringing out sharply over a suitably epic soundtrack. Voice acting is sparse but well implemented, and combat is filled with the ridiculous howls of gruff vikings and the self-righteous battle cries of duteous knights. The units themselves, whilst reasonably generic in role and purpose, are each in possession of their own colorful personalities, and this same irreverent personality is something that seeps into every facet of CastleStorm.
Bigger isn’t always better, but you get a lot of content for your investment here – CastleStorm offers a big package for the price. Alongside the sizeable campaign, which features a whole bunch of side missions as well as the main quest, you also get competitive and co-operative multiplayer modes, along with a castle editor. If, like me, you’re a bit of an achievement fiend too, there’s no less than thirty hits of gamerscore-boosting crack attached, including a couple that are likely to take some serious effort to obtain. 800 MSP well spent then, I’d say, and not a single set of horse armor in sight.
Even though CastleStorm refuses to take itself seriously, Zen Studios have obviously put a lot of time and effort into crafting the best experience possible. It might be easy to dismiss CastleStorm as just a bit of fun, but that would be to overlook how few games are intent on delivering just that – fun, in absolute abundance, in a perfectly polished package overflowing with charm. Zen Studios have said that the game was inspired by ‘the fond childhood memory of building and destroying Lego castles.’ It’s certainly a great alternative, and at least this way you don’t have to worry about tidying up afterwards. Or anyone catching you playing with Lego.
CastleStorm is available now on Xbox 360 and PC.
- Charming and hilarious setting and writing
- Riotous blending of genres that ends up frantic without ever getting messy
- It’s just so much damn fun
- Busy control scheme can initially overburden the player