Some time ago XGen Studios released a free Flash version of Defend Your Castle which unwittingly spawned a small following of loyal defenders. The game was unquestionably entertaining, but here at WiiWare World we don’t want to waste our time encouraging carpal tunnel syndrome for the sake of some largely mindless click-and-drag gameplay. When it comes down to it, we’d much rather pay for a game with intuitive controls; this is where the WiiWare version comes in.
At 500 Wii points this version certainly requires a little more commitment, but it also has much more to offer; the Wiimote controls give the experience some much-needed life and multiplayer mode allows the gameplay to come into its own. Add in a charming art style to boot, and you’ve got a solid game with no greater usefulness than to merely pass the time brutalizing any poor, stick-figured souls who rally against the tyrannical rule of your kingdom. That’s probably the best and worst statement you can make about it.
If you aren’t familiar with the original, DYC is a old school shooter hybrid that plays exactly like it sounds. Scores of button-headed stick figures prance across the screen in endless waves with one intention - to pound your castle until it crumbles. There is a little variety in the enemy types and some tactical options for upgrading your defences, but this is monotone design in the purest sense. The only goal in sight is to cleanse the screen of all vile enemies. And did we mention it never ends?
What separates DYC from a typical shooter is that it demands more than just a quick trigger-finger. The emphasis here is on what you do with an enemy after you aim and click on him. The standard course of action (and most immediately gratifying) is to simply flick your wrist and let him fly. You can fling him straight up and let him crash back down, bounce him off the side of the screen, dunk him, spike him, juggle him… basically whatever it takes to crush his little crayon frame. As strangely engaging as abusing defenceless stick figures proves to be, it's clear that it takes a little more than primitive violence to make for compelling gameplay. Thankfully, DYC reveals surprising depth as you progress.
After each stage you are first given the option to save (to one of three save files) and then spend your points on “Fortifications and Upgrades”. These include simple repairs and life bar extensions as well as several options for upgrading your offensive and defensive capabilities. The ‘pit of conversion’ upgrade allows you to pluck an enemy at random from the hoard and drop him into a magical paint bucket to add him to your army reserve. Buy any of four tower upgrades and you can assign these troops to the related tower (signified by a coloured flag). Archers will randomly pick off enemy troops at a distance; Wizards grant you the ability to use the d-pad to wield potent spells on the battlefield, and so on. As you add more troops to a tower the benefits and capabilities offered by that tower will grow more effective. Dividing your time between managing your troops and recklessly tossing enemies is where most of DYC’s depth and strategy lie.
Add a couple players and the relatively dull single-player experience quickly evolves into a manic orchestra of castle defence. The player who scored the most points last round is crowned king and rewarded with the responsibility of controlling the troops and upgrades. Coordinating your troop management while your friends frantically defend adds another dimension to the inherent strategy. However, the standout feature of DYC’s multiplayer is that it allows for true drop-in, drop-out gameplay. If you’re playing alone and a friend shows up all he or she has to do is pick up a controller, point it at the screen, and the game will immediately adapt by boosting both the speed and number of enemies. If you have four people playing and two need to rest their tired arms, the game will likewise adjust accordingly. The universal appeal and overall versatility of DYC’s multiplayer is its main draw; so if you looking for a frantic game to play with friends on a whim there’s a lot of value here.
Finally and most obviously, an endearing sensibility really sells the whole package. The developers have said they wanted to make the game look like it was held together by “string, tape, and bubblegum.” The result is akin to a kid conjuring an elaborate game with little more than his imagination and whatever junk he finds lying about the house. Sure, when you break it down the graphics are nothing more than poor particle effects and simply animated stick figures on top of a static background. The presentation is about as primitive as possible short of aping the barebones flash style, but that’s the point and if you can go along with it you’ll likely find the art style delightfully crude. One downer, though, is that while the mostly vocal sound effects are cute and mildly humorous, there is no music. This is unfortunate, because the prevailing, repetitive sounds of bopping, knocking, screaming, and whooshing don’t do much for the eardrums and start to grate after awhile. That’s about the only real complaint we have about this game so it’s not the end of the world.
At the end of the day, Defend Your Castle is an easily accessible little oddity with nearly unlimited appeal. It serves as a classic example of old school game design enhanced by the Wiimote’s motion controls. There’s nothing more to the concept than working your way from level one to infinity, with the later levels culminating into sheer tests of endurance. Without a doubt it is great fun in short bursts. The reality, though, is that at some point your arm will get tired or sore and you’ll wonder why exactly you’re doing this anyway. But sometime after your arms recover and boredom has returned, you’re bound to come back once again to fulfil your duties to the kingdom.